by Arianne Rodriguez
On February 2 & 3, 2013, GK scheduled a medical mission for the children of San Alfonso and San Antonio Elementary Schools in Cateel, Davao Oriental. We set off around 5 PM of February 1 from Davao City. The road, as usual, didn't seem very welcoming. Nevertheless, Team GK went ahead and conquered the odds. But even the odds tried to test our iron-clad spirits. Somewhere along the pitch-black country road approaching Agusan del Sur, the truck that carried sacks of rice and monggo intended for our feeding program got stalled. The men in our team worked hand in hand to fix whatever was wrong with the engine. It was around 1 AM and there were no houses nearby. The darkness made it harder for them to troubleshoot and fix. Minutes passed by...10 minutes...30...60...120 minutes seemed like eternity. The medical mission was in in 6 hours and our medical team hasn’t had that much rest yet. We were still 3-4 hours away from Cateel.
The odds tested the iron-clad spirits of GK volunteers on their way to Cateel for a medical mission
At around 2:30 AM, the truck's engine roared to life. For us, it was such a heavenly sound to hear at that time: the engine's roar and the screeching tires--priceless! We were stuck along the country road for more than two hours in the middle of the night. At that moment, the fact that we hadn't gotten that much rest did not bother us anymore. We were thinking, "We're not just going to make it; we're going to make it on time." Such thought kept us going.
We arrived half past six in Brgy. Poblacion, Cateel, Davao Oriental. We had to grab some breakfast and wash up quick so we can spare at least an hour to rest. The patients are arriving soon and we had to attend to them with a refreshed mind and full energy.
Challenging the Impossible
By 8 AM, we were already at San Alfonso Elementary School. After setting up the consultation room and pharmacy, the miracle started to happen. We were a team of one doctor, 4 nurses and around 7 more volunteers. In the consultation room were two nurses to assist the doctor and carry out the registration and initial assessment. In another room were the other 2 nurses tasked to dispense medications and impart health teachings. They were assisted by 2 GK volunteers. The other members of our team set up a "Paraisong Pambata" in another room. Just imagine us not having sufficient rest, considerably outnumbered in proportion to the groups of patients coming in and struggling with effective communication. (People in Cateel speak a native language they call Mandaya. Although some grown-ups speak and understand Bisaya and Tagalog, most of the children who happen to be our target patients only speak Mandaya.) Not to mention all those times when we had to ask, "Where are your parents?" And they'd answer, "they're dead." It pained us just looking at those needy eyes; how much more upon hearing about their situation? All these circumstances--these should make the day too impossible to get over with, yes?
A team of volunteers challenge the impossible in San Alfonso Elementary School
Impossible is just a word. It may sometimes be difficult on our part, but it will never be impossible. As the song goes, "ang Pilipino 'pag kumilos kakayanin ang lahat..." Behind every difficulty that emerged, we still got by with big smiles because God's blessings were upon us all throughout. At the end of the day, Team GK was able to serve 268 patients. Not that bad a number for such a small service team that had to surpass a bulk of challenges. The best thing we had after the day's work was the opportunity to sleep the night away. Such luxury! :)
Love Never Fails
It's always best to start the day right, don't you agree? The following morning, we had to rise early to catch up for the 7 AM mass. All fresh and energized, we were able to get to the church on time. The readings of the day were truly inspiring to our team. They were about love and mission.
(The 2nd reading was 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.)
How fitting! Should it be a mere coincidence, we do not know. Yet we like to believe that it was God speaking straight to our hearts. Under the makeshift roof of the century-old church and with the people who were barely on their feet after a terrible devastation, there's no perfect time to fuel our spirits than on that holy hour of prayer.
Feeling blessed and renewed, our team hit the road to San Antonio Elementary School at around 9 AM to cater to a new set of patients. Operating on the same procedure, the whole activity was a bit more hassle-free for the volunteers. Some of us even started to attempt using their language in order to at least lessen the burden in communication. Though trying to speak their tongue was awkward and faulty, we managed to have fun with the children. Simultaneously, some volunteers were also teaching the children to sing GK songs and play fun games in another room while waiting for their turn.
"Sa Gawad Kalinga ay walang iwanan."
Seeing the children walk away with bottles of medicines in their hands and big genuine smiles filled our hearts with great joy. That day, we sent off 250 patients with hopeful thoughts and a headstart to sustained good health. Though exhausted, we were filled with much happiness for having helped. On our way home, we were so uplifted by the children waving their hands and uttering their goodbyes as our van went past them. You can just imagine the exhaustion that suddenly disappeared after witnessing the infectious happiness of the little angels.
Feeding Hearts and Souls
The next day was the start of Gawad Kalinga's sustained feeding program for the kids. It was simultaneous in both schools so we had to divide the team into two. Upon arrival, we were able to see the children walk their way towards the school. It was raining then so some of them had to share one umbrella and some used plastic cellophane to avoid getting wet. One teacher mentioned that some of the kids even had to walk up to 5 kilometers from their homes just to reach the school. It's a sad truth really, but it's good to know that despite the situation, the children are still determined to pursue their education.
>> Read more about the sustained feeding program and Operation Walang Iwanan: Typhoon Pablo
We wanted the children to feel that they will never be left behind and that somewhere out there, there are people who truly care
The children and their teachers were truly delighted upon seeing us. As they ate, we distributed their "Walang Iwanan" baller bands to make them feel that they will never be left behind and that somewhere out there, there are people who truly care. When we rolled away, we saw the same wonderful sight along the sides of the road but this time, it was more of a hopeful scene. The children were waving us goodbye with the baller bands on their arms, hopeful that we're never going to leave them behind like we promised.
As you are reading this, Gawad Kalinga is still feeding 1,200 children in Cateel. We were there and we will be, for always. This is spreading love the GK way. :) This is what happens when love challenges the impossible.
OPERATION WALANG IWANAN is ongoing, and we need YOUR help. Let us transform this disaster into an opportunity to bring hope to the families affected by Typhoon Pablo. Walang Iwanan!
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