The World Needs the Smiles of the Young

Post authored by Rizza M. Paray

Through our continued partnership with Kapampangan Development Foundation we have reached out to families of young children in the San Jose City, Nueva Ecija area in need of corrective cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries.  These surgeries bring lasting change to the lives of the very youndg, transforming their smiles and building happy, confident children in the process.  We at Alay Foundation had the good fortune of locating 2 patients from the barangay Villa Floresta, a remote village difficult to reach and lacking modern medical services.  Our patients are Shaira, a 10 month old girl and Ivan, a little boy who has undergone previous cleft lip surgery but is in need of further procedures to resotre his health and his smile.  To look at Ivan he seems healthy and well but underlying complications with his cleft palate require additional surgery. 

The families of our young patients were eager to access the no-cost surgeries and see them as an opportunity for the future of their children.  They travelled many hours to reach Pampanga where the doctors perform their evaluations and the surgeries.  On November 5 the children went through pre-surgery screenings.  The waiting room was full.  More than 30 anxious and hopeful families brought their children for evaluation.  Our Alay Foundation staff stayed with our 2 families throughout the entire screening process.  The mothers of the children were given instructions and pre-operative prescriptions for antibiotics.  The children’s scheduled operations begin today, November 24.  Our staff has been so moved by the journey of the children and are committed to seeing them through their surgeries and post-operative experience and will continue to support the families throughout the patient’s recovery.

Let’s Talk About Sex: Reflections on World Contraception Day and Our First Teen Class

Let’s Talk about Sex

World Contraception Day

September 26, 2015

Post written by Rizza Paray

World Contraception Day was a day Alay Foundation set aside to meet with teenage students for our “Let’s Talk About Sex” educational class and workshop that covered a wide range of topics related to sexual and reproductive health and rights specifically suited for a youth audience.  From healthy relationships and birth control to sexually transmitted diseases and dating violence, Alay staff and contributors brought these topics to life through our interactive educational outreach programming.  On World Contraception Day we hosted our first-ever class geared toward and for youth.  More than 60 students from the Institute of Enterprise Solutions gathered at Plaza Leonor in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija to participate in a lecture, role playing exercises, and a quiz show game.

My contribution that day was to give a lecture and then lead the discussion on healthy and unhealthy relationships and dating violence.  At first I was nervous but just thinking about girls who suffer from violence gave me the courage to stand in front of the class to raise the discussion.

I feel very fortunate to be part of something so important because I believe this kind of class can be a way of ending intimate partner violence.  The students now will have knowledge of what dating violence is in a relationship and that knowledge will give them greater wisdom and confidence in choosing a partner, in choosing their relationships, and it’s something they can definitely share with others.  Our youth community benefits from this discussion on many levels in terms of open access to information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, respect for self and others, and improved public health and economies.

After discussing relationships, students actively participated in role playing activities relating to what we covered.  Participants had 10 minutes of preparation after which they presented their skits in front of the class.   The role playing was very popular with both the participants and the audience.

One of our guest speakers was a Philippine Red Cross representative who presented on the importance of donating blood.  It is my hope that the students will have the courage to donate blood in the future.  For every one donation up to three lives are saved.  After interacting with the students I feel each of them is a hero in the making and that they will be the ones to save lives in the future!

Following the Red Cross presentation we were joined by Ms. Grace Mansilla, R.N., a professional registered midwife who delivered the lecture on sexual and reproductive health and rights.  The students learned about family planning and preventing STDs.  Ms. Grace also got the students involved with a condom demonstration game where students practiced the proper way of putting on a condom which is the best method for preventing STDs.  Everyone enjoyed trying to get it right!

At the end of Ms. Grace’s discussion we then played a version of the popular American game show, “Jeopardy.”  The quiz show brought all the day’s learning together as the students competed with their knowledge to out-best each other in answering tough questions all related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.  All the questions were answered correctly which can only mean that the students truly listened to what we discussed in the lectures and activities that day.  All the winners and participants received prizes for their efforts!

I believe that Alay Foundation’s program connected with the students on a very real level and I look forward to working with youths about their sexual and reproductive health and rights in the future.  It seemed to me that the youth are in transition from one period in their lives to another and are filled with questions that need answers.  Human sexuality is complex and information and resources deserve to be made accessible to young people.  We will be reaching out to other youth populations in our area.  If you are a teacher or educator in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija and would like for Alay Foundation to come speak with your students about human sexuality  and reproductive health issues facing them , please contact our office at +63-917-726-5362.

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.

 

The Busy Month of June

Photo: A family we interviewed on maternal health and family planning 

Article authored by:  Dianne Joy Castelo

June proved to be a very busy month for us here in the San Jose offices of Alay Foundation in the Philippines.  We found ourselves deeply immersed in preparing to host our second blood drive, gearing up to present our very first educational outreach class, “Let’s Talk About Sex”, and all the while assisting a professional film crew capturing all of our events plus maternal health care interviews with a number of women and men from the barangays.  The results of our filming will be released in the coming months as a series of videos on our website and on various social media platforms.  We are very excited to share them with you and invite you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we near the time of launching the videos!

Preparing for the mid-June blood drive began in earnest in May as we worked hard to promote the event in San Jose and the surrounding barangays.  That Saturday, June 13th, we expected a big crowd at Plaza Leonor – the pavilion on Sobrepena Drive.  The first participants to come to the blood drive were Peace Action and Rescue with Dedication to Serve the Society (PARDSS).  All of them underwent the assessment to determine if they could donate blood.  The Philippine Red Cross has very strict guidelines for blood donors.  The second group of participants that came were the Philippine Army.  Most of the soldiers and officers passed the screening and were allowed to donate blood because of their physical fitness.  Next arrived the fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega (APO), the Scouts Royal Brotherhood / Sisterhood, and some of our friends, relatives, neighbors, and the people of San Jose to participate.  All in all, we had a total of 70 participants, of whom 36 became blood donors.  With 36 blood donations up to 108 lives will be saved.  And we improved on our first blood drive held in November of 2014 – it seems we are making progress thanks to all who came out to support us!

After the blood drive we reorganized Plaza Leonor in preparation for the educational class, “Let’s Talk About Sex”.  Ms. Reina Regina Eugenio, Director of the Institute for Enterprise Solutions, a post-secondary school based in San Jose, delivered the presentation on sexual and reproductive health.  The members of the audience came from a number of different barangays.  Some were mothers or students.  Others were barangay health workers and some were even barangay officials.  The class went very well and we all learned something about sex education that can be applied to our own lives.

The next day, June 14th, I woke up extra early at 2 o’clock in the morning to prepare myself for transporting two cleft lip / palate patients to Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) in Pampanga.  Ivan Dangla, a one-year old baby boy, and Cathalea Soriano, a seven-month old baby girl were accompanied by their mothers and relatives as we took our ride on a bus at 3 o’clock in the morning in order to arrive by 6 am.  After their registration and screening, I asked Ms. Tess of KDF to assist the patients and their families so I could return to San Jose to continue my duties with the filming project.  I arrived around 2 pm and prepared lunch for the filming crew.  After the meal, we proceeded to Sto. Nino 3rd to continue interviewing mothers and expectant mothers for the filming project.  While we were there, the Barnagay Health Worker (BHW) informed us that Mrs. Evelyn Reguyal had given birth earlier in the day, so we decided to visit her in the General Hospital where she kindly agreed to be interviewed.  Wishing her and her new baby well, we left some donated clothing for Evelyn and her family.

After leaving the hospital, we interviewed Verginia Pregillana, the caretaker of an orphaned child who lost their mother in childbirth.  We also interviewed Julie Ann Tubera – a first time mother, Eliza Tumamao – also a first time mother and mother of triplets.  Lastly, we interviewed two Barnagay Health Workers, Melinda Rombo and Maribel Copuz of Sto. Nino 3rd, San Jose, Nueva Ecija.  Melinda made us smile and laugh with her good natured jokes – it was a lighthearted experience.

It was a long, but good, day and the filming was done so we returned to Plaza Leonor to review the footage and prepare dinner for the crew before they headed back to Manila.  As for young Ivan and Cathalea, we returned to Pampanga on June 16th after their cleft lip / palate surgeries to accompany them back home to San Jose.  But, as luck would have it, our van broke down for the second time we were escorting patients to and from KDF.  Ugh!  We are definitely going to need a new van!  We finally got the van checked out at a gas station and temporarily up and running so we could make our way to KDF.  Once we arrived Doc Guy decided that, to be safe, he would send us all back to San Jose by bus.  We will have an update on Ivan and Cathalea’s progress in an upcoming post.  Stay tuned!

Restoring Eyesight, Restoring Hope: Field Notes from Kapampangan Development Foundation Site Visit

Article authored by Rizza M. Paray

One of Alay foundation’s ongoing field programs is to locate people suffering from cataracts of the eye and poor eyesight.  We interview these prospective patients to identify need and we then transport them, under the kind guidance of Ma’am Aida Cleofas, an Alay Foundation volunteer, to Kapampangan Development Foundation in San Fernando, Pampanga.  Once they reach KDF they are screened for the procedure, undergo surgery, and then return for their post-operative follow-up visits.  The people travel for hours to reach Pampanga but they endure the journey with the hope of having their eyesight restored at no cost to them at any time.  The alternatives for those with cataracts is to have their operations at local hospitals where they will be billed the balance after the government subsidy of PhilHealth which is altogether too expensive for so many Filipinos who live in absolute poverty.

Dianne and I made our first site visit to our partner organization, Kapampangan Development Foundation, on May 8th.  Our founder, Dr. Sobrepena, introduced us to KDF’s compassionate staff.  We took a guided tour of KDF’s facilities and we were able to capture our visit through photography.  Dianne and I had the good fortune of meeting with several patients preparing for surgery as well as those returning for their post-operative follow-up appointments.  KDF and its dedicated staff conduct this surgical outreach program with passion and with empathy for the community they serve.  While some medical missions are designed to move from one area to another and yet another – making follow-up visits impossible, Kapampangan Development Foundation’s program for cataract patients is a dedicated program located in the community and created to see its patient through the whole process to healing – from screening and surgery to all follow-up visits and any concerns that arise in between.

I am excited to report that day by day the number of people visiting our offices for inquiries about the cataract surgeries increases.  It is so very gratifying to help people who are suffering and are in need.  Alay Foundation is an organization that cares about people and it is rewarding to join a group of such committed staff and volunteers.  Together we are reaching those who need our help and services the most.  In a blog post coming soon I will be able to share with you my experiences working with the children in need of cleft lip and/or cleft palate reconstructive surgeries.  Their beautiful spirits will leave an indelible mark on you as they did on me.

Field Notes: A Visit to Kapampangan Development Foundation and Post-Operative Interviews

Photo:  May 8, 2015 – Cataract patients gather in San Jose before making the journey to Pampanga for screenings and surgeries.

Article written by Dianne Castelo

Two weeks ago, on May 8th, I visited Kapampangan Development Foundation to learn about their cataract screening and surgery program.  It was astonishing to see just how many people were waiting at the doors to be cured of their cataracts.  There were those that were there for their first screening, and there were those there for surgery,and yet others for their post-operative follow-up appointments.  KDF organizes this program free of charge for the impoverished in their community of Pampanga, as well as in ours, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija

While transporting several of the patients back to San Jose I had the opportunity to speak with them about their experiences.  All had travelled a great distance to have their eyesight restored and I could see the joy and hope in their faces.  Their indescribable gratitude for the partnership between KDF and Alay Foundation that allowed them to see again without any cost to them left me humbled.  Their happiness was my happiness.  I was truly amazed by their gratitude and it was the first time I felt so much a part of something bigger than myself – something as important as the work of Alay Foundation.   We brought our patients home to their families after a long and good day.

Alay Foundation tracks the progress of the patients in the cataract program and follows up with patients throughout their experience.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with two of our patients, Mrs. Victoria DeGuzman and Mrs. Adelaida Cleofas, both of whom are recovering nicely.   

Mrs. DeGuzman  has suffered from cataracts for the past two years during which time she became less and less able to do her work around the house leaving her feeling frustrated at not being able to be as active as she once was.  Not able to afford the cataract surgery on her own, she was entirely grateful to enroll in Kapampangan Development Foundation’s surgical program and for the dedicated transportation of Alay Foundation.  Since completing her surgeries, Mrs. DeGuzman has resumed her usual activities and never misses an opportunity to share her experience with her friends and neighbors suffering from eye problems.

Mrs. Adelaida Cleofas has been living with diminished sight from her cataracts for nearly two years.  She shared with me her sadness at losing the ability to remain active in her work at home.  Mrs. Cleofas was not in a position to afford the expensive surgery at the local hospital and turned to Alay Foundation and KDF when living with cataracts became too much to bear.  Now, nine months since completing surgery for both eyes, Mrs. Cleofas has become an powerful advocate sharing her experience with others and volunteering with Alay Foundation in its transportation program in support of KDF.

Having met these two remarkable women, I can say I feel a greater sense of fulfillment knowing that I have  touched people’s lives even if it was in such a small way as a gesture of kindness and friendship during our interviews. 

Women and Men are Partners in Family Planning

The following post is authored by Genna Preston.  She has recently joined Alay Foundation as our Communications and Social Media Specialist

Not only is today the International Day of Families, but today is the day we embrace the unity of families and decision making among both men and women. This year’s focus is gender equality and the rights of children within families. As stated by The United Nations, “The International Day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.”

As we support this year’s International Day of Families, Alay Foundation commits to promote gender equality through community outreach family planning education campaigns.  These community education classes will focus on medically accurate information about modern family planning methods and will encourage both partners to discuss their options and decide together what method works best for their families.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), half of the estimated 3.4 million annual pregnancies in the Philippines are unplanned.  Many of these unplanned pregnancies resulted from a lack of knowledge about and/or access to modern family planning methods.  These unplanned pregnancies can come with many dire consequences:

Active participation among both partners in choosing family planning methods is essential for the stability and future of families in the Philippines and globally.  When partners discuss family planning options together, it encourages equal participation and can strengthen the bond between them.

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Field Notes: Pagibang Damara Festival of San Jose City, Part II

Photo:  Dianne Castelo, Communications Associate and Office Manager, Alay Foundation, located in San Jose City, the Philippines

Article written by Dianne Castelo

I joined Alay Foundation less than a month ago and while I am already enjoying my work immensely it is also challenging me to take on a more public role communicating the Foundation’s mission and programs to people of all walks of life.  I believe God had a hand in providing me this position and I am confident that I will grow and change in so many beneficial ways, both personally and professionally.

One of the first tasks I encountered on the job was putting together and organizing Alay’s participation in the Pagibang Damara Festival trade fair in San Jose City.  Unlike other booths at the fair we were not selling wares of any kind.  Rather, we were sharing with the public Alay Foundation’s programs and services for the community.  The Foundation is woman-centered and offers many benefits for those who will be planning their families, are interested in reproductive health issues and education, and, of course, for those who will be able to use Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center to be located in San Jose City, serving all 38 surrounding barangays. 

We spoke with many people at the fair and explained some family planning concepts with them such as the role of spacing pregnancies two to three years apart for the optimal health of mother and child, as well as the importance of prenatal care and nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy.

While there are many options for safe and effective modern family planning methods, a number of women still choose traditional methods such as periodic abstinence, the rhythm method, and withdrawal because they fear ill effects on their health from modern contraceptives.  However, with the exception of total abstinence, traditional methods are actually less effective than modern contraceptives and modern methods are completely safe.

We used our laptops to deliver presentations on family planning, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections to small groups of people that formed at our booth.  All in all, our presence and community outreach at the Festival was successful! 

As Alay Foundation’s Communications Associate, I am looking forward to planning and promoting our upcoming events such as our June 13th Blood Drive.  Be sure to come out that day and support us.  Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that donating blood is 100% safe and it SAVES LIVES.  Each of us can be a lifesaver – all it takes is one person and one donation at a time.