She is kneeling down on the edge of the pew, bowing her head and clasping her hands tightly as the bells resonate inside the holy temple. Her white veil dangles on the side of her face, concealing her eyes, allowing a ray of sunlight to touch her cheeks. Slowly, she strokes her deformed left arm, looking forlorn. She gradually lifts her chin, makes the sign of the cross, and gently, she pulls herself back to the wooden bench seat.
I sit adjacently behind her. My eyes linger.
It is the first Sunday of the Lenten Season. At seven on a cool, sunny morning, people from the humble Barangay Poblacion I, Talalora, Samar, flock the St. James Parish Church to participate in the Eucharistic celebration. Friends hug. Families talk. Individuals meditate before the altar.
My attention immediately shifts back to her arm; her crooked and seemingly healed, yet untreated, fractured arm.
“How can this be neglected?” I ponder.
Beyond the Norm
In the long spectrum of packaged tours, luxury hotel accommodations, paradise resorts, and thrilling adventures falling under the niche of the travel industry, one could not resist guilty pleasures. Besides, the feeling of ticking one place off the bucketlist is surreal. Let’s be honest about that.
But somehow, accumulated experiences from traveling threw me out of my comfort zone, deepening my understanding about life – its meaning, its purpose, its very core. It broadened my view on social responsibility and how it impacts people. Each one with their own story, complicated histories, and tales of frustration and hardships that they go about every single day.
I am a Registered Nurse and I participate in Medical Missions organized by #TeamBanggi, a group of Filipino doctors and volunteers formed to respond to the medical needs of the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda victims.
Arrival of the Group
After 45 minutes of anticipation, the quiet town drew near. Wooden stilt houses began to fill the horizon, colorful “bangkas” gracefully gliding through the water, and people on the port were sifting through the crowd to take a good look at the jam-packed boat coming their way.
We finally arrived. Together we lifted our bags loaded with medical equipment, crossed over a foot-wide plank, and positioned ourselves under the marker.
Talalora, a coastal, 6th class municipality in Western Samar, located 28 kilometers south south-west of the Catbalogan City, home to more than 7,900 residents; 270 people living in one square kilometer. 9 out of 11 barangays of this remote area are seated several kilometers apart, literally islands apart. The place was recently hit by the world’s strongest storm (Yolanda/Haiyan) last November 2013.
From an exhausting day of connecting flights (Iloilo to Manila to Tacloban), land travel (Tacloban to Babatngon, Leyte), and minutes adrift the Carigara Bay and Janbatas Channel, we all settled down in our host’s cozy home.
The crowd was getting anxious. People of all ages were pushing each other just to get in line, enduring the heat, the sweat, and the hunger. It was around 8am and the number just multiplied by the minute. These people are in dire need to have access to health care, grasping the gate irons, and hoping to be let in.
“Maupay na aga!” (“Good Morning!”) I enthusiastically welcomed the first batch of patients. Folks near the window were chuckling, planting their attention on my silly try of speaking the Waray-waray dialect.
An 18-year-old mother cradled her baby beside me. She handed me her paper and smiled. But behind that sweet smile was a flushed face, deep red lips, and droopy eyes. Just when I was about to ask her how she’s feeling, a sudden noisy expulsion of air escaped her lungs.
“Non-Productive Cough.” I wrote.
Patient after patient, the old and the young, the happy and the sad, the confident and the diffident, medical cases got complicated – Post-stroke clients, Hypertension as high as 210/180, and Diabetes.
Simultaneously, vital signs were checked, cataract extractions were performed, minor surgeries (circumcision and excision of cysts) were done, consultations on adults and pediatric patients were handled, and distribution of medications were carried out.
Hundreds of locals populated the venue everyday and all 11 of us had our hands tied.
For four long days of being immersed with the local community, conducting health teachings and providing utmost care, we came through. It was physically and emotionally exhausting yet very rewarding and fulfilling.
Beauty of Travel
Traveling takes us all to different dimensions. Wherever we go, we soak up diverse cultures, gain newer perspectives, and experience life in someone else’s shoes. We outgrow ourselves. We become stronger, responsible, and contented.
Looking at the situation of the people I have met, their skin color, looks, or even language doesn’t matter at all. We are still human beings and harsh judgments are irrelevant now.
To travel is not just about capturing scenic views, picturesque landscapes, cerulean waters, gorgeous powdery sands, intricate architectures, or historical landmarks. It’s about the people, finding happiness, and sharing it with them.
Our society, with its set of issues and problems, is like a fractured arm. It is possible to treat, to heal, and to make whole again. But if left unattended, just like the woman’s arm in the church, it will still remain broken.
My travels took me deeper, rekindling nostalgia.