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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.

Field Notes: Pagibang Damara Festival of San Jose City

photo:  Rizza M. Paray, Alay Foundation’s Administrative Coordinator located in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, the Philippines

Article written by Rizza M. Paray

Alay Foundation recently participated in the trade fair of the Pagibang Damara Festival of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.  We set up our booth just outside City Hall and invited the people to learn of our Foundation’s programs and services.  There was much preparation in the days and hours before the fair began.  We needed a tent and tables, banners and flyers, laptops and chairs, and so much more.  We planned how to approach people and describe Alay Foundation’s programs in order to introduce ourselves to the community.

On the day of the trade fair we noticed how different our booth was from the others who had products to sell such as clothes and slippers, sim cards and bonsai, and, of course, foods.  But we were armed with information and programs designed to serve the people.  It is not everyone who can afford to go to the hospital or a medical center when in need or even just for check-ups.  I realized the importance of Alay Foundation’s mission and how our booth was relevant for so many people, especially the poor and the young who are most in need of family planning, health education, and having access to quality health care in our soon to come birthing and women’s center and all at no cost for the people.  

We struggled that first day in attracting people – but then our manager suggested we have an educational raffle drawing.  We reached out to the crowd with sexual and reproductive health questions on topics of ovulation, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections and other health education questions. When participants answered correctly to our questions they received a raffle ticket for Sunday’s Grand Draw – the final day of the fair.  We continued to distribute flyers and met with many people.  During the Grand Draw all the participants were so excited – but there could only be three winners!  We were very proud of all of the winners and everyone who participated.  But the most important thing was connecting with the community and sharing all the ways we will be serving them now and in the future.

I am happy to be a part of Alay Foundation because through our organization I am able to help people in my own way and see the changes in their lives for the better.  I look forward to seeing Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center helping people in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.

Midwives Save Lives

Midwifery has been with us, and central to our communities, since the beginning of time when women attended each other’s deliveries, ushering in new life. Through human development, midwifery has come to be institutionalized and professionalized.  This year’s International Day of the Midwife is themed “for a better tomorrow.”  Midwives not only save lives, they provide hope for that better tomorrow. 

The Philippines, a low to middle income nation, is one of 68 countries that contribute to 97% of all maternal, newborn, and early childhood deaths each year worldwide.  2015 is the ultimate target year of the Millennium Development Goals, a broad-based international effort to eliminate poverty and its effects.  Millennium Development Goal #5 seeks to address maternal mortality, reducing by three-quarters the number of women dying in pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period.  Sadly, the Philippines will not achieve the target of 52 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  Instead, 11 women will die each day leaving more than 30 children motherless for each maternal death.

Midwives are crucial in providing a host of reproductive health care services – from family planning that allows women and their families to number and space their children to vital pre-natal care that can identify at-risk pregnancies in time to refer mothers to physicians and facilities that provide life-saving interventions.  Women are not dying from untreatable diseases and conditions during pregnancy and childbirth – they are dying from preventable causes:  hemorrhage, hypertension, sepsis, obstructed and prolonged labor, and complications from abortion.  Midwives are key to providing not only skilled birth attendance but the essential pre and post natal care an expectant mother needs during what is one of life’s most joyous experiences.

Save the Children and the World Health Organization estimate that another 350,000 midwives are needed to reduce maternal and newborn deaths.  Knowing how pivotal women are to human progress, how they stabilize their societies – from nurturing their loved ones to nurturing their economies and their nations in the process – their tragic and unspeakable loss is felt by families and communities  across the globe.

Facility-based births are on the rise in the Philippines as more women avail themselves of pre-natal care with midwives, nurses, and doctors.  Birthing centers that partner with midwives, such as the one Alay Foundation is building, are the community connection to securing the health of so many mothers and newborns.  Our birthing and women’s center is creating programming that effectively promotes and empowers midwives by making available the space, equipment, and technology to assist them in providing for expectant mothers and by facilitating continuing professional development for each of our partner midwives.  Celebrate midwives, today, and for that “better tomorrow.”  They bring forth the future through their dedication, skill, experience, and compassion.


Click on the link below to read “Giving Life, Giving Health:  The Role of Midwives”


World Immunization Week 2015 – Closing the Gap


Video credit:  World Health Organization

Immunizations save lives not just each year but for generations to come.  Diseases like small pox and polio have been nearly eradicated in no small part because of aggressive vaccination programs that tackle diphtheria, tetanus, measles, meningitis, influenza, whooping cough, and typhoid.  We know what these diseases can do.  They cause death disability, and unimaginable grief that ripples though communities.  The most vulnerable among us are the children, particularly those in conflict or disaster areas where access to health care and interventions, such as vaccines, is compromised by violence and displacement.  And there are those, too, that are difficult to reach, especially the rural poor of developing countries.

Stopping diseases in their tracks is the combined effort of various stakeholders, both groups and individuals, on the front lines of of this public health battle.  Nations, health care workers, policymakers, the pharmaceutical industry, the medical research community, NGOs, and civil society all play a role in building and strengthening health care infrastructures that support immunizations and prevent the outbreak of diseases from happening.

 Immunizations have been touted as the single most important public health achievement of the last century.  The crippling and devastating effects of polio and smallpox are something our grandparents and great-grandparents knew.  We have at our disposal, today, what could only be hoped for a century ago.  Vaccinations prevent diseases and save lives.  Let us do our part to keep the message going forward.

Fighting for Maternal Health & Rights in the Philippines

Today, April 11th, is International Maternal Health and Rights Day – a day that recognizes and commemorates what we are fighting for each and every day.  It is an opportunity for people to advocate for the advancement of maternal health and rights in their communities, their governments, and through social media platforms across the globe.  Over the years we have seen much improvement in maternal health and rights for women and girls.  However, there is still so much to be done to reduce the number of women needlessly dying during pregnancy and childbirth due to a lack of access to family planning, unsafe abortion and preventable and manageable maternal health issues.  Sadly, the Philippines will not achieve the global goal of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity set forth in the United Nations’ MDG’s.  

Family planning and access to safe and quality reproductive health care are fundamental rights all women and girls should expect from their governments and their health care providers.  Family planning is also critical to addressing the maternal health crisis in the Philippines.  While new reproductive health laws have been passed in the Philippines, supply of modern family planning methods has been unreliable and unsteady.  Implementation of the law has had a number of obstacles – both economic and social.  Although, one of the greatest challenges remains the lack of awareness and education about family planning, particularly among teens and among the impoverished in urban and rural settings.  

Today, Alay rededicates itself to doing its part to address these issues.  We are building a modern birthing and women’s center in San Jose to serve the poor at no, or low, cost to women and their families.  We are creating educational outreach campaigns to bring awareness to communities about sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health issues.  We are also partnering with midwives and medical professionals with a program designed to enhance and further their education centered on reproductive, maternal and prenatal health that will allow them to better serve their community.  

 Alay Foundation will continue to advance and advocate maternal health and rights for the women and girls of the Philippines and we look forward to the opening of our first facility, Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center in San Jose.


A Celebration of Women: Accomplishments and Aspirations

Image credit:  forbes.com

The United Nations’ 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women has given me the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of women to history and society.  Women are powerful agents of peace and development, of stability and reconciliation, of economic growth and prosperity, of social justice and gender equality.  We are pioneers in medicine, science, law, math, the arts and literature.  We are builders of families and communities.  We are visionaries, innovators, and activists.  And yet, although so much has been accomplished as we celebrate the advancements women have made, particularly during the past century, there is still a far way to go in terms of our aspirations.

The Wage Gap

The Philippines fares very well with regard to the global Gender Gap Index, ranking 5th in the world in 2013 and in 2012 the International Labour Organization – a special agency of the United Nations – reported that Filipino women earn an astounding 105% of their male counterparts earnings.  The Philippines is doing a far cry better than the United States where, despite legislation in the form of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a white male.  This translates to women earning 78% of a man’s wages.

Political Representation and Inclusion

Across the globe we need to increase women’s presence in the chambers of government.  Women must increasingly be included, and have a role, in policy formation and the decision-making processes in order to shape more equitable and sustainable societies.  When women participate in the executive, legislative, and judicial processes nations are strengthened and economies are able to flourish.  In the Philippines women’s political representation and inclusion is lagging behind the global Millennium Development Goals’ target of 50% parity in political representation.  Only 19.97% of elected posts were occupied by women as of 2013.

Legal Status

In matters of property rights, divorce, custody, and violence women continue to seek equality before the law.   In some parts of the developing world where women are property inheritors / holders, business women, and breadwinners they and their property –including  wages – are subjugated by the law to husbands and male relatives who are favored by the legal system.  Still, too many women are the victims of violence at home and in their communities and their protection has yet to be established or enforced.  The terrible truth is one in five Filipino women aged 15-49 are victims of physical violence and one in ten women is subjected to sexual violence.  In addition to physical trauma the majority of victims of violence against women report serious psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety and anger.  Fortunately the Philippines has sustained a public information campaign on violence against women and has taken legislative measures to prosecute the offenders to the full measure of the law including husbands and live-in partners.

Family Planning

Women’s autonomy continues to be undermined by antiquated religious doctrine and repressive governments who would deny women the right to limit, space, or prevent pregnancy.  When women have agency in terms of their bodies and reproductive health they are able to make decisions informed by their needs and desires.  With the authority of self-determination women can make choices to provide for themselves and their families and are able to avoid poverty and indigence.  Forty-nine percent of Filipino women utilize some form of family planning.  Of those women 37% are using modern family planning methods while 12 % continue to rely on traditional methods putting women at greater risk of having more children than they desire or are able to provide for and as Philippine society grows at 2% annually it is an ever increasing problem pressing on already overburdened and under-resourced social and environmental infrastructures.  Family planning is at the heart of sustainable societies and having access to the full range of modern methods means women have choice in planning their families.

Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by a nascent United Nations, was born in the aftermath of depraved human barbarity when the world leaders cried out for a charter, an agreement, that would establish what it is to be human and the dignity every human being is to be afforded.  The Declaration enshrined, and made sacrosanct, the rights of every man, woman, and child and lent itself to two successive generations of human rights that have expanded the identity of humanity beyond the scope of liberty and political rights.

It would be difficult to have a discussion of women’s rights without mentioning the framework of feminism.  While feminism accomplished a great deal in what are deemed the three waves, as well as women figures prominent in ancient, medieval, Enlightenment, and Victorian histories, today the word is synonymous with exclusion (of men) and infused with conflict when it needn’t be.  Feminism is a social movement, a philosophy, even an academic endeavor.  It advocates for women’s industrial, mental, political, social, and economic equality with men and is a legitimate and natural extension of human rights.  It is not about exclusion of one sex but the desire of the other to be fully included in society.

When all is said and done, human rights are the basis of our individual and collective dignity.  It is our morals and ethics that are the weights and measures of civilization and are what defines us as societies.  That we still strive for egalitarian community in this world is evidence enough that we continue to struggle with the idea of equality.   Women’s place in society is assured.  We are here and will continue to be.  Joined together with our like minded male counterparts our work is before us to achieve that ever elusive equality.

International Women’s Day Photo Contest

Alay Foundation will be celebrating and honoring International Women’s Day with our first Facebook photo contest for women in the San Jose NE area of the Philippines. The winner will receive 2000.00 Php (50 US dollars).

The very first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, 1911 – more than a century ago!  It is a day set aside to applaud the economic, political, and social achievements of women around the world and a time to reflect on what more needs to be done to advance women’s rights and issues globally.  

There are a few ways to participate in International Women’s Day:

1. Join us in celebrating the experience of being a woman in the Philippines by entering our Facebook contest.  See our Facebook page for details and Good Luck!!!

2. Participate in social media campaigns by using these hashtags:

– #MakeItHappen
– #womensday
– #IWD2015
– #internationalwomensday
– #PaintItPurple     (In 1908 in Great Britain, the Women’s Social and Political Union used the colors purple, white and green to symbolize the struggle of women trying to gain the right to vote. Purple signifies two values associated with women’s equality: justice and dignity).  

For more history and information on International Women’s Day: