Anita “Nitz” Fraser and myself, Marilen “Mayen” Iliscupides, both from Southern California, were lucky to be associated with the Filipino-Canadian Medical Association (“FCMA”) as volunteers on its medical mission to Batangas, Tacloban, and Cebu on February 16, 2018 thru February 28, 2018.  On our first day, we met up with this incredible FCMA group of around 30 volunteers at the Manila NAIA airport.   

Off we went on a bus trip for the first day of FCMA’s two-day medical mission to Alitagtag, Batangas.

To say that the Alitagtag mission was a success is an understatement.  A huge gymnasium that was converted to an all-in-one makeshift processing center, medical examining area, dental office, pharmacy and optical dispensing units, were run like clockwork by eager, able and happy FCMA volunteers and local doctors and nurses. The FCMA medical doctors, Coeliflor Silva, Filo Bautista, Zenia Sanchez, Richard Mah, Sanja Avdic, and Ryan Figueroa, as well as dentist Shirley Salazar, each had their own office/station.  Patients were lined up and everyone had the chance to be evaluated and treated by the doctors.

The pharmacy section handled a lot of patients waiting for advice and medication.  It was manned by pharmacist Lita Villanueva, nurses, Lilia Concepcion, Marilyn Domondon, Beth Gleisner, Nitz Fraser, Emily Dumalao, and Beth Silagan. Additional help came from Dylinda Santiago, Rose Koenig, Patricia Mah, Poy and Ligaya Cana, Elie Concepcion, and myself.  Ligaya and I were also kept busy at the optical section dispensing reading glasses. It was heartwarming to see the more than one thousand Alitagtag residents patiently waiting their turn. The two days went smoothly with the help of local security who did an excellent job at crowd control.  From conversations gathered from the residents, it was a medical mission that was very much anticipated and appreciated. The residents expressed their gratitude profusely after receiving treatment, medical advice, and medications.

On to Tacloban on February 20, 2018 for the second two-day mission where we were joined by Dr. Judith Nacua, Gerrard Silagan, and Shirley Aquintey.

It was held at the EVMR Regional Medical Center.  The turnout was a resounding success!  Over two thousand residents of Tacloban and neighboring barangays were brought in by bus in batches.  With the assistance from the volunteer staff at EVMR and the hospital’s resources, the FCMA volunteers’ work were not as daunting as it looked.  Each department was set up in different parts of the building and on the grounds.  Even strong rains and wind did not stop the volunteers from doing their job.  By the way, there were some relaxing moments too. Want a mani-pedi?  Just stroll over to one corner of the grounds and presto! Beautiful nails!  Still stressed out?  How about a massage?  Right this way!  Plus, delicious lunch and snacks.  The residents of Tacloban were treated to a rejuvenation of mind and body which they so richly deserve.

This medical mission, and the people behind it and in front of it,  were all testaments to the good in people.  From organizers Clem Cabillan and Dr. Coeli Silva, who were tirelessly on top of everything throughout the mission; to the doctors, health professionals and staff who donated their valuable time; to Mr. Edgar Adan, Dr. Gemma Pastolero, Dr. Judith Nacua and Girlie Maglalang, for inviting us to their beautiful homes for a day of fun and food; and most especially to the residents of Alitagtag and Tacloban, for their resiliency.

And now to the other part of the medical mission, or as one volunteer said, “a vacation with a mission”. On to Cebu on February 23, 2018 for several days of relaxation and fun!

I’ll sum up this “vacay-sion” in one word, exhilarating!  Snorkeling, parasailing and swimming with the butanding at the beautiful Oslob beach!

Several of us were tempted by the beauty of the sea and the butanding, to go take a closer look at the whales.  Although my hands tightly gripped the katig for dear life, I managed to get underwater to take a quick peek at the whales.  They were gentle and harmless. I don’t know about my friend, Nitz Fraser.  Her x-rated number in the water might have scared a few.

Aguinid Falls was so beautiful!  There are 5 levels to maneuver before you get to the top of the falls and reaching level 5 was a test of endurance and camaraderie. I saw Lita Villanueva on Level 3 and heard her say “Ayoko nang umakyat sa itaas.  Hanggang dito na lang ako!”  But before you know it, she’s on level 5 having the time of her life, unscathed except for her pants.   

And parasailing!  Eager beavers were Chit Camaya, Rufina Dumlao, Nitz Fraser and myself! Pure joy! I didn’t think that parasailing would be an itinerary on a medical mission, but hey, Canadians know how to work hard and party hard!

And party we did after hours!  Who needs Max and Val Chmerkovskiy when we have local DIs who can do a mean rumba.

To sum it up, in the words of Nitz Fraser: “What an experience!  Incredible memories up in the sky, under the water, over the table with food galore, and inside the van with hagikhikan!   

See you all next medical mission!”