“Serve the Filipino people.” – it’s a line I’ve heard countless times when I was still at my alma mater, too many times perhaps that it has at one point begun to sound rather irksome and I may have subconsciously attempted to avoid thinking about it. As a fresh graduate, the temptation to start thinking about myself instead was just too strong, yet fate perhaps had other ideas. I went and got an internship at an NGO called FriendlyCare and the line came haunting me again.
The haunting happened when my internship brought me to Kay-Anlog.
Brgy. Kay-Anlog is a hard-to-reach, backwater town located in the outskirts of Calamba, Laguna. The roads leading to this little town are often rough, lined with tall, overgrown grasses and become muddy under the slightest drizzle. The houses in the barangay are roofed with rusting iron sheets, have gray unpainted walls and are usually at a dismal state. It has a high poverty incidence rate, which is not entirely surprising considering that it is a relocation area for informal settlers coming from different parts of the country. Aside from that however, the town also has low access to proper sanitation and clean, potable water.
Perhaps for these reasons, Kay-Anlog is classified as a GIDA, that is, as a Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Area.
Hearing the term GIDA was nothing new to me, but going to one place classified as such was an experience I’ve never had and as a former UP student, the prospect of going to Kay-Anlog pulled the principles drilled into me by my old school back up the surface.
We went to Kay-Anlog on a cold rainy Tuesday. I was with the Family Planning (FP) Department of FriendlyCare led by Madelene Magallon, whose team were to hold a mission at Kay-Anlog as part of a project funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and in observance of the Family Planning Month, which takes place every August. FriendlyCare’s founding mission has always been to provide Filipino’s with affordable quality family planning services and this project was part of their continuous commitment to give their fellowmen access to the services they need to plan their families. During this mission, FriendlyCare’s FP department were to give a lecture about family planning, counsel women on the different FP choices they have, and provide free implant insertions to the residents of the barangay.
Implants (Progestin-Subdermal Implants) are a form of artificial family planning which prevents pregnancy by secreting hormones that interfere with the ovaries’ egg cell production. That means, if a woman who has an implant were to have sex with a male partner, no egg would be fertilized and therefore no pregnancy would occur. This method of family planning is effective for three years, which means the woman and her family would not have to worry about unplanned pregnancies for that span of time. For people who barely have access to reliable health services and who live in isolated hard-to-reach areas, this FP method was a good fit.
As we were nearing the Southville Livelihood Center where the mission was to be held, we weren’t very optimistic. The rain was starting to worsen and we were afraid that the women would be discouraged by the uncooperative weather. When we finally arrived at the venue, we were however welcomed with rows and rows of mothers seated in the hall, some even with their kids in tow, and with more still lining up to register.
The program began promptly and as the marketing intern I started doing my job of documenting every step and phase of the mission. It was while I was doing my task that I realized just how important these kinds of medical missions were, especially in areas like Kay-Anlog. More than that, I saw with my own eyes the pitiful realities my fellow Filipinos have to live with every day.
Most of the women who came to the mission belonged to families who were earning way below minimum wage and who did not have jobs of their own. Those I was able to chat with revealed that they had no access to education beyond the primary years. These women will have no access to the medical services they need if no one offers it to them at low costs.
An implant, I learned from one of the nurses working for the FP department, would normally cost 12,000 PHP a piece at another provider. If service providers like FriendlyCare did not exist and if organizations like UNFPA did not support providers with funding, then how was a woman whose family earns a measly three hundred pesos a day supposed to plan her family, her future and her life?
In the course of the mission I met a 19 year old girl who already had three children. There was also a 28 year old mother who was already taking care of 7 children, the first one of which was born when she was only 17. Looking back at my memories, I was nothing but a girl focused on my books when I was seventeen, nothing but a girl enjoying her freedom when I was nineteen. Yet these girls already had, not just one but a couple of lives in their hands at these ages. Why? Because no one was there to educate them about their rights and their choices and because no one was there to give them access to these rights.
At the end of the mission, despite feeling fortunate to have been part of a program that gave women a bit more say in their lives, I was unhappy. I knew that there were more places like Kay-Anlog, perhaps places that were even more isolated, even more disadvantaged; and in those places, there would be even more women who do not have access to the services they need; women, who will have needs that have since a long time remained unmet. It was a sad, dismal reality. If I were thankful for anything, it was because I knew something could be done about it and that day’s medical mission proved it.
Experiencing this and being able to participate in this mission was one of the greatest gifts I’ve had. It showed me once more, the magic in the lines “serve the Filipino people”. It showed me that it was no corny, gasgas phrase but a phrase we should all keep in mind; a phrase inspired only by the realities and needs of the country we live in.
This is why I would like to thank FriendlyCare. Not only because it allowed me to become a part of an organization that has since such a long time served the people to the best of their abilities, but because I know it will continue to serve the people in the time that is yet to come.
By Jamila Colleen Briones, University of the Philippines – Diliman