May 6-9, 2014: Manila, Philippines
In May, STL entered into uncharted territory for only the second time since our missions began in 2012. A developed country like Taiwan gave us a safe environment to learn and gain experience. However, it took a giant leap of faith for us to venture out to the Philippines.
Our mission in this new country took place in Bagong Barrio, a neighborhood known for poverty, crime, drugs, and prostitution. It is the second most dangerous area in Metro Manila due to gang violence. The optometric work took place over two days at the Our Lady of Lujan Quasi Parish, run by the IVE (Institute of the Incarnate Word). Approximately 25 Filipino volunteers (consisting of 1-2 ODs from the Philippine College of Optometrists, 2 faculty ODs from Centro Escolar University, 5 practicing ODs, and 18 5th year optometry students) examined the patients and the 4 ODs from the US acted as attending doctors. We had the help of 7 parish volunteers with registration and directing traffic. We examined 453 patients and prescribed 268 glasses.
The Holy Mission of the IVE priests/brothers and SSVM sisters took place from May 2-11. The US team spent two more days after the optometric work helping with the Holy Mission. In the mornings, we would do home visits with Mother and the other sisters (blessing homes, praying, asking about needed sacraments, and inviting them to parish events). To provide some perspective, a typical home may be 6ft x 8ft with 10-15 people (multiple families) living within the close quarters. The homes are usually dark and full of trash. Since there are too many people, sleeping usually occurs in shifts. Children sleep during the day and adults sleep at night, leaving the children to roam around the streets at night. In the afternoons, we helped with children activities. We delivered care packages (diapers, milk powder, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and lice shampoo) to 60+ mothers with young infants on Thursday, 5/8.
On Saturday, 5/10, the 4 ODs from the US were invited to lecture to 4 out of the 6 optometry school deans in the Philippines, along with other optometrists.
The finished glasses were all delivered on Wednesday, 5/14, to very appreciative patients.
The trip was certainly worthwhile. The average income of the patients we saw (if they were employed) was less than $50 USD a month. Access to medical care and a pair of glasses was quite out of reach for a vast majority. In the Philippines, the lower class and upper class discrepancy is very apparent. Many of the doctors, students, and family members of our US team mentioned that they had never set foot in an area like Bagong Barrio, despite the fact that they may live less than 10 miles away. Another obvious characteristic of the Filipino culture is the Catholic faith. Churches are so abundant that it is not uncommon to find Catholic mass celebrated in shopping malls. However, despite high volume for mass attendance, there can still be much improvement in living out the Catholic faith in this modern age.
We would like to thank each and every one of the STL staff members for your help and support. Your prayers are much appreciated and have born much fruit. The safety of our volunteers and the success of the mission is a testament to your service and love.