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Reaching the un-reached

© UNICEF Philippines/2005/Liwanag
This girl shows a doctor's diagnosis of her ailment during a medical mission organized by UNICEF and local community groups in Quezon for victims of typhoon calamity.

These are stories
that touch our hearts,
keep us grounded
to what we have
always believed in ---
children have rights.

They are after all
our future.


By Lindsay Dahl
UNICEF works with local community groups to bring emergency relief to indigenous communities.

ON THE oceanfront of Malatunglan, a remote village along the eastern coast of the Philippines, the Dumagats await the arrival of doctors and medical volunteers. As the ferry boats begin to dock, the men form assembly lines, carrying boxes of relief items and medicines. Help has finally come.

The Dumagats are indigenous people who live in the mountains of Quezon Province. When three storms successively pummeled Quezon in December 2004, heavy rains and strong winds loosened soil and caused a catastrophic landslide. Many of the Dumagats lost their homes and their loved-ones.

Two months after the disaster, the Dumagats have started to rebuild their homes. But many still need medical attention. UNICEF worked with a local non-governmental organization, the Southern Tagalog People’s Response Center (STPRC) to launch a relief and medical mission in Quezon.

For Marisa, a 50-year old mother, going to a hospital is more of dream than a reality. “The nearest hospital is a seven-hour boat ride in treacherous ocean water.” Today, she is relieved that the doctors came.

Jadylyn, 19, a mother of two, wishes for medical personnel to come more often. She has her patient registration document, folded and creased, revealing the prescription: ferrous sulfate syrup 125 mg/5 ml elixir and amoxicillin 125 mg/5 ml suspension for her infant. She feels that she can finally win the battle against her child’s anaemia and pulmonary bacterial infection.

Volunteer doctor Francis Capalongan traveled all the way from Manila to give free examination and write prescriptions for the residents of Malatunglan. Other volunteers and pre-medicine students became instant pharmacists, rummaging through boxes of medicines and vitamins provided by UNICEF. Lists of anti-bacterial and analgestics went on for pages.

When asked what happens when medication is not available, Jadylyn looks at her feet, whispering: “They die. Children often die. There’s nothing we can do.” But when she gazes at the thousands of bottles, tablets and packages of pills, there seems comfort in knowing that help is here today.

“These mothers and children may not know the difference between Paracetamol and Albendazole, but they know that what we are doing makes a difference. They know that people care about them,” says a volunteer.

Each prescription is written in the vernacular and explained to the patients. The line of patients dwindles and the medical team sets out for its next stop. Thermometers, bottles of isopropyl alcohol and bags of cotton disappear from sight, into the boxes again.

How many times was the blood pressure cuff wrapped around skinny arms? Patients look expectantly at the apparatus, wanting their blood pressure to be normal. And although normal is variable, it still matters that patient number 25 is 120/80. That patient number 134 is 115/90.

These numbers indeed matter. They give the Dumagats a sense of certainty, a semblance of normalcy. At least, the numbers tell a concrete story. If life can’t be better, the Dumagats are simply wishing that life can be normal again.

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