On August 21, 2011, reading the news headlines could be pretty depressing – jittery stock markets around the world and probably the continued global economic recession. As a result of these global events, the fragile Philippine economy could take another big hit. The country is overly dependent on foreign remittances sent by overseas foreign workers and immigrants living outside the country.
Moreover, the Philippines is predicted to fall even further behind in meeting its UN Millennium goals of providing basic social services to its people by 2015. The Philippines is expected to fail to reach these two major UN millennium goals (Commonwealth of Australia Philippine Report, May 2011):
1) Achieve universal primary education – boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. “Progress is not enough for the Philippines to meet (this important millennium development goal). Primary school enrolments are high (84 per cent) and completion rates stand at 73 per cent, but insufficient investment in education (teaching and infrastructure) has negatively affected access to, and the quality of, education.”
2) Achieve maternal health – Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio. “This goal will not be met on current trends. The decline in the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births has slowed down: from 209 deaths in 1993, maternal mortality ratio (MMR) went down to 172 in deaths in 1998, and now estimated at 162. At this slow rate, it is unlikely that the 2015 target of 52 deaths in the MMR will be met.”
Despite the overwhelming negative headline news, two people are trying to make a positive difference to educate kids, save lives and make a difference one person at a time. Dr. Domingo Alvear, a surgeon, and Blair Smart, a medical student, both lead extraordinary lives helping children, saving lives and making a difference for the long-term.
Dr. Domingo Alvear of the World Surgical Foundation and “Adopt A Hospital Program”
In January 2010, I joined Dr. Domingo Alvear at a medical mission to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Dr. Alvear graduated of the University of Santo Tomas Medical School in the Philippines; he has practiced medicine for many years in Pennsylvania and is a well-respected surgeon by his peers. He also founded the World Surgical Foundation, conducting life-saving surgeries and missions around the world. From the first day I met him, Dr. Alvear already expressed to me his frustration about the shortsightedness of the current set up of medical missions. Many Filipino American professionals joined these short-term medical missions that would last for a week or two; many would help for a day or so and then would slowly disappear to play golf or enjoy the beach! “There must be another sustainable way to help,” Dr. Alvear lamented.
At the end of our Palawan medical mission, Dr. Alvear had put together the outlines of his vision for the “Adopt-A-Hospital” program, where doctors and medical practitioners could help a specific, local hospital in the Philippines for the long term; furnish it with beds, medical equipment, medical supplies and other long-term infrastructure; provide long-term medical care and perhaps even professional exchanges. Such long-term commitment is commendable since it’s poised to make a real difference, affect Philippines’ long-term health care and help achieve the Philippines’ UN millennium development goal of maternal health care for all. In the fall of 2011, the “Adopt a Hospital” program will début in Coron, Palawan with the support of the local government and the local medical society. This could be a great model of diaspora partnership for long-term health sustainability.
Blair Smart, first year medical student, providing educational scholarships to 18 children living in dumpsites in Leyte, Philippines
In 2010, I met Blair Smart when he passionately presented his project to the Rotary Club of Chicago Far North; he wanted to provide basic food and scholarships to 18 children living in dumpsites outside Tacloban City in Leyte Island, Philippines. Blair, 25, is a first year medical student at Rush Medical College in Chicago, IL. In 2010, he volunteered in that island and was tremendously affected by the poverty he saw around him. He wanted to do something. Upon his return to the US, he rallied his friends and family to raise $6,000 to provide food and educational scholarships to 18 indigent children living in nearby dumpsites. You might say that helping 18 children is quite small compared to the hundreds of thousands of street children that go hungry every night. However, Blair overcame the cynicism and want to affect change.
Next, Blair is planning a comprehensive health survey of the area that will hopefully pinpoint local resources and at the same time address the gaps in educational and health services. Such an approach will build upon a long-term approach in the road of providing universal education to all, including children that live in dumpsites.
Domingo Alvear and Blair Smart are not super heroes. They are ordinary men but they have extraordinary capacity to help others and to give. They are living examples to us all that we call could make a difference even in these trying times – one person at a time.