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.

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.

 

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 :)

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!

World Blood Donor Day Blood Drive in San Jose City

Field Notes from Rizza M. Paray

Alay Foundation held a Blood Drive, in honor of World Blood Donor Day, on June 13, 2015 with the cooperation of Philippine Red Cross. It was a very busy day.  Not only were we conducting a blood drive, but we launched our education program with a class on Sexual and Reproductive Health called, “Let’s Talk About Sex.”  While all of this was happening, we had a film crew there documenting events and conducting interviews for an upcoming fundraising campaign.  

Prior to our June 13th events, Alay Foundation staff spent countless hours promoting the Blood Drive in the San Jose community.  We printed flyers and had some tarpaulins printed and hung up in San Jose City, especially in the city proper.  One of the tarpaulins was hung beside Plaza Leonor and the other, along the Public Market.

I would like to personally thank the volunteers who helped us give out flyers in San Jose City, despite the hot weather.  Their hard work helped to make our event successful.    :)

Alay staff also went to City Hall to inform the Barangay Leaders about Alay Foundation’s Blood Drive and other programs because they have the means to reach more community members.

We also addressed letters to Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Army and Peace Action and Rescue with Dedication to Serve the Society (PARDSS) to invite them to our Blood Drive.  Thank to all of those who showed their support by attending our Blood Drive.

On the day of the blood drive, with help from the kitchen staff at the canteen near Plaza Leonor, we prepared snacks to be given to the blood drive participants.  Thanks to the kitchen staff for taking the time to help us.  :)

Alay Foundation had 70 participants at our Blood Drive, and collected 36 blood donations. Thirty-six bags of blood may not seem like a lot, however, that can save up to 108 lives! It is also a 45% increase from our November Blood Drive!!  :)

Thank you to all our staff, volunteers, partner organizations, and participants who made our blood drive a success.  

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. 

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.