When I talk to family and friends back home, they always ask me what I love most about my time in the Philippines. While I have had amazing experiences learning to help out in the various medical settings- especially since I aim to be a doctor one day- it is truly the people I have met that have impacted me most.
Kuya Lito is our go-to guy at Project Tondo, the site we work in. He is a light-hearted man who loves to take photos, enjoy a glass of San Miguel beer, and talk to literally anyone about anything. We learned about how his youth was wild (apparently he chose to stay in college for 9 years instead of the standard 4 because he loved the parties too much) but he matured into an insightful man who devoted his life to giving back to his community through charity. He chose to help out FIMRC because he sees the dire need to inform others about the health disparities that takes place in the country he grew up. In addition, he co-founded a nonprofit that provides canes and wheelchairs to those who cannot afford it. I can see the passion in his eyes every time he tells us about a new initiative occurring at the clinic, or a new fundraising idea he has for his nonprofit. I can see his pride for his country as he gives us impromptu tours of the city and its sights. He is an incredible man who has shaped my experience to be the best possible so far, and I am grateful to have him as my lifelong friend.
Ate Ethel runs the preschool in the town of Tondo. Tondo is a community that is considered the “slum” of Manila- entire families live in single rooms consisting of dirt floors and no bathrooms. The community is essentially in the middle of a landfill, where locals sort through and collect trash for a living. For Ate Ethel, her preschool is limited in that only the most disadvantaged and undernourished children are able to attend. Fifteen children are chosen to attend this school because one of the perks of the program is that one wholesome lunch is provided to the students each day. Even with this incentive, many students choose not to come to school because they may find it boring and are not enforced to do so by their parents. To combat this, Ate Ethel visits the homes of her students in her own time- sometimes this process can take two hours since navigating through the narrow, crowded alleys of Tondo is difficult- to ask the families why their kids are not coming to school. She tries to convince the parents of the importance of attending school, and urges them to make sure that their child does in order to receive a proper educational start, and for the meal. Hearing her dedication to the students has provided me a deeper appreciation for those who have contributed to my education, and I look forward to working alongside her and the students more this month.
One thing I love is that people in the Philippines refer to one another as Kuya and Ate- meaning brother and sister respectively. People are so open to talking to you, and are excited to get to know you regardless if you are a stranger or not. I have never felt such a strong sense of community before coming to the Philippines, and it is because of relationships that I have built up- like the ones I have with Kuya Lito and Ate Ethel- that has really made all the difference.