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.

 

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. 

Cataract and Cleft Lip Surgery Update

On May 13, 2014 Alay Foundation, in collaboration with our fellow organization KDF, hosted our first event: Free Catartact Surgery Screening and Reading Glasses Distribution Day. Patients were also screened for free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries and new prosthesis fittings.

Alay Foundation saw a total of 555 people, gave away 199 pairs of eyeglasses, scheduled 97 people for cataract surgery, 5 people will be fitted and given new prostheses, and 4 people scheduled for cleft lip and cleft palate  surgeries which have been completed along with follow up visits. See pictures the families allowed us to share with you on https://www.facebook.com/ASBNS

Cataract Surgeries are still being completed and Alay Foundation has been and will continue transporting patients to KDF facilities for their scheduled appointments. So far we have completed 45 cataract surgeries and have 52 more to go. Two patients have been given their new prostheses and we are waiting for four more to schedule their follow-up appointments. All in all, progress is being made and we are committed to getting patients to their scheduled surgeries.

KDF, is a local Philippine charity that has been working in our neighboring region, Pampanga, in the Philippines since 1987. They provide disability programs and maternal and child health programs. Alay Foundation has been warmly welcomed by KDF to the community of dedicated volunteers and professionals working to help alleviate the suffering of the poor in the Philippines. KDF has taken Alay Foundation under its wing and will be providing us with advice and help that only an organization with experience such as KDF can give. You can find out more about KDF and the work they do on their Facebook page:    https://www.facebook.com/KapampanganDevelopmentFoundation .

We look forward to working closely with KDF in serving the community by helping to raise the standard of healthcare for the poor in the Philippines.