Field Notes: Screening for Blindness in San Jose City

Article by Dianne Joy A. Castelo

More than 1.25 million Filipinos have some form of visual impairment.  Of those, 33 percent suffer from cataracts – a reversible condition that tends to appear with aging.  With cataracts, a cloudy film covers the lens of the eye making it difficult to see clearly, or at all.  With pterygium, a triangular patch of tissue grows over the inner side of the eye and obstructs vision.  Both conditions are able to be treated with surgery which is why Alay Foundation works with Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) to screen patients and to perform surgeries.

In early June we began preparing for our free eye screening to detect cataracts and pterygium co-hosted by KDF and Alay Foundation.  We started by distributing advertising signs throughout San Jose City and by promoting the screening in the barangays.  We successfully signed up 97 people in advance of the screening.  When July 11th arrived, we signed up another 116 people – it was a good thing we had anticipated a large crowd.

While Rizza registered patients at the entrance to Plaza Leonor, my responsibility was to assist the people throughout the screening process.  Cerone documented the event through photos and words and Aida worked with all of the patients seeking reading glasses.

Although over 200 people came for the screenings, only 50 of those diagnosed with cataracts or pterygium scheduled their surgeries.  Fear, by far, is the biggest factor holding people back from these life-changing surgeries.  And, even though we stress throughout all of our advertising and promotion that the screenings and surgeries are completely free of charge, there is a myth that persists in the city and barangays that patients will be charged as much as 12,000 pesos.  Unfortunately, other cataract programs in the Philippines have been caught in this kind of fraudulent and corrupt practice which is casting a shadow over programs like Kapampangan Development Foundation’s which never charges a patient for their surgery and Alay Foundation’s program that never charges the people and their families for transportation to and from their scheduled surgeries.

With cataracts being one of the leading causes of blindness in the Philippines it has never been more important than now to screen as many people as possible.

 

Population, Development, and Progress

The idea of voluntary family planning and its relationship with poverty reduction may have come of age in the developed world but in the Philippines too often a lack of allocated resources and knowledge about contraception and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS prevails.  At the intersection of population and development advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights struggle against social and political institutions that usurp, rather than protect, Filipino women and girls.

The final report of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals initiative asserts that women who are able to read and write give birth to children who are more likely to survive beyond the age of five.  Basic education is pivotal and empowering in the life experience of women but so, too, is basic knowledge of one’s body and the right to choose if, when, and how many children to have.  These are the core tenets of family planning – that no woman should be denied the opportunity to time and or space her children so that she might be part of the planning in providing for a family.

Unmet need for Family planning across the Philippines remains significant.  More than one-third of pregnancies are unplanned.  They are either unwanted (16 percent) or mistimed (20 percent).  Women want to have their children safely, they want them to thrive.  Having more children than she is able to provide for is heartbreaking and takes a toll on women who are already struggling to feed, educate, and take care of the health care needs of their families.  Having access to voluntary family planning has the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.  Wherever it is, poverty is destructive.  It erodes families, communities, and nations.  Women are central to global development and sustainability.  It is their right to access modern family planning methods and it is the responsibility of governments to clear the way for women to avail themselves of the full scope of sexual and reproductive health care.

This year’s World Population Day theme is focused on “vulnerable populations in emergencies” striking the all too true chord that in times of conflict and humanitarian crises women and girls are the most vulnerable among us.  They fall prey to abuse, rape, and trafficking.  Their access to sexual and reproductive health care may be limited or eliminated altogether.  According to an article from NBC News, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan 200,000 women were pregnant across the country and 12,000 babies were expected to be born in December alone (the month following the typhoon) – many in places hardest hit by the storm and where health clinics or hospitals were obliterated.  Getting equipment, supplies, and personnel into devastated areas took precious time and much resource.

Crises remind us of the vulnerability of life.  But in times of calm we should not forget how fragile the lives of women and children are and, that given a choice, so many women would time and space their children in order to provide for them and to protect them.  Universal access to voluntary family planning is essential to achieving stable societies and allows people to thrive in life rather than languish in poverty.

An Encounter to Remember

An Encounter to Remember

It’s been three months since I was took on the role of Associate Producer for Alay Foundation’s filming project. At first I was hesitant accepting this volunteer position as I am still studying –  but in the back of my mind I knew the possibilities it might hold for me.  Although my goals once I have finished my studies are to go abroad, the position was an opportunity I could not pass up.  After 13 years of work in the public sector I know now that public service is a part of who I am and that Alay Foundation’s work in the community is yet one more way for me to serve.

I decided to accept this role because I learned that the project has a deeper purpose and is not just routine work to be performed. Meeting with the founder and president, Dr. Guy Sobrepeña, for the first time enlightened me about the mission and vision of Alay Foundation. Knowing that the foundation’s program focuses on women’s health, awakened in me a curiosity for what can I do to help achieve the goals of this filming project. I even asked myself, why was I chosen to be part of the said project? Maybe it has a purpose, a deeper purpose. As I was reading my job description of Associate Producer, I became committed to the responsibilities assigned to me and eventually forgot that this was a volunteer position.

I needed to make a lot of preparations for this job like: arranging my schedule in school; manage my time frame; prepare myself mentally, emotionally and physically as well as assessing my capability on doing my task and be able to give a quality output. Along the way, I realized that being chosen to do the job meant giving my superiors trust and confidence in me that I can deliver output that they are expecting to me.

The experience of going from barangay to barangay in San Jose City was not difficult for me to do as well as coordinating with the barangay officials – my previous work in the public sector saw me performing the same responsibilities. Establishing relationships with officials and the public was very familiar to me.

But after meeting interviewees for our filming project I can only say the encounter was indescribable!  The mothers with so many children to care for and teen-age moms melted my heart as if I was in their situation myself. I internalized what it would be like to be a mother just like them in such poverty.  What if I were in their situation?  How can I give proper health care, education and guidance to my 13 children when I, myself, did not finish my studies and do not have a job? How can I meet their needs and wants? How can I cook a delicious, nutritious, and complete meal for them, if I only have PHP100 for a day from their father’s income? How can I give enough love and attention to each one of them if I have to attend to the needs of my youngest children and still do all the household chores?   How can I be a good mother to them if I myself cannot take care of my body and health?

My encounter with Nanay Perlita and Nanay Lucy of Barangay Kita-Kita was heartbreaking.  Both had experienced the loss of some of their children because they could not provide for their health care needs. As a mother of four, I cannot imagine losing a child. The tears in their eyes while remembering the loss of their children crushed my heart as I tried my best to hold back my tears and to look strong in front of them. I need to do that because as an interviewer I have learned to not get too carried away from the interview. With Nanay Evelyn, I felt great empathy for her. She’s pregnant with her 7th child. Her face is pale; she looks like uneasy; she’s toothless and her blouse is dirty. Obviously, she’s not able to take care of herself.

I find the three mothers are very strong-willed women because they still manage to smile through the tears on their faces, accepting their situations; still choosing to move along with life, devoted to their children and families. They are resigned to what they have become but are hopeful for their children.  Even though they are not able to give them a better life they are seeking help and are hopeful that by being part of our filming project it might help them and their families in some small way.

I understand, now, why I became part of this project because my encounters with the women in these communities has changed my perspective and awareness of my health care needs and valuing myself as a woman.  Equally, I learned from my interview with Ms. Sylvia Ordoñez, (Executive Director of KDF) that health care is a gender issue and that as a woman and mother, it is imperative to have good health facilities where women are able to deliver their children safely.  And especially for those women living in a poor communities, the need for reproductive health literacy is a must and providing them correct information and awareness like family planning are tools that they can use.

After filming our project, I felt that this is a calling for me to help women and mothers by devoting myself to educating on, and bringing awareness of, sexual and reproductive health.   With Alay Foundation’s Maternal Program we have a real opportunity to empower women. I look forward to working with the women in our community and to more unforgettable and life-changing encounters with them. As an empowered woman I believe that, at the end of the day, our health is as important as providing love and care for our children and partners.   I believe that when we make health our priority we are only adding to the security of our families and communities, strengthening both as we do.

 

Lights, Camera, Action…Alay’s June Events

Pizza giving donations to participants in our filming.

Field Notes from Rizza M. Paray.

Alay Foundation will be releasing a series of videos in the coming months to highlight the need for our programs. The filming took place June 13th and 14th during our blood drive and sexual reproductive health class.

There was lots of preparation before the actual filming.  We spent many days traveling to different places looking for possible interviewees for our videos.  In the barangays of  Kita Kita and Sto Niño 3rd we identified a pregnant teenager,  a mother of multiple children, a first-time mom, a Barangay Health Worker, and a caretaker of a child who lost their mother while giving birth.

We are thankful to community leaders in Barangays Kita Kita and Sto. Niño 3rd for their cooperation in helping us identify community members in their barangays for our filming.  

We were given the names and addresses of the interviewees and set out to find them.  We introduced ourselves and our project and spent lots of time learning about each family that was participating in our filming.  We had a short talk about what would be done on filming day and answered any questions anyone had on the film itself.  We went over the kinds of questions that would be asked to help prepare them to share their stories.

Weeks passed and it is already our big weekend! The filming crew who came from Manila were kind and approachable :) We would like to thank them for all their hard work that weekend.

During filming on June 13th, we conducted interviews, filmed footage of our blood drive with the Philippine Red Cross, and documented the launch of our educational outreach program with the debut of our sexual and reproductive health class, called “Let’s Talk About Sex.”  

During filming on June 14th we conducted interviews and filmed footage  in Barangay Kita Kita and Sto Niño 3rd.  We filmed in community centers, community member’s homes and along the countryside.  There was so much on the agenda for filming weekend that we didn’t think it could all be done. But we worked together with our volunteers and all the people who helped Alay Foundation prepare for our events and the weekend was a success!!!
Thank you to everyone who helped make our weekend events possible.   :)

Making Smiles… :)

 

Field Notes From Rizza Paray

On June 16, Doc Guy, Dianne and I went to KDF Pampanga to pick up the two cleft lip patients that had surgery over the weekend.  We were all excited to see their beautiful new smiles.  Our two and a half hour ride became even longer when our van broke down, again :/  Luckily, we were by a gas station and we were able to fix it to make it to KDF’s facility.  

Once we arrived we learned that both of the children’s operations went very well with no complications and their parents were so happy because in the future, no one will bully them.

Thinking of the comfort and safety of patients, Doc Guy decided to pay for patients and their families to get home by bus because he didn’t want the van to break down with patients. Dianne and I accompanied them on the bus to San Jose City.  

I hope Alay Foundation can identify more cleft lip patients to help because it can prevent bullying and can increase the self confidence of children suffering from cleft lip.  Every child should be able to smile with pride :)