A Dire Need, A Volunteer Solution

If you look in your wallet, you could probably find a few dollars and a bunch of pennies that seem useless. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could change the world with those pennies? Turn someone’s life around? Surprisingly, those pennies are worth more than people realize in a small, rural area of the Philippines. You don’t have to be wealthy to donate, and you don’t have to have a perfect life to be able to extend a helping hand. Making change is about realizing that help can be extended everywhere we look. By planting one seed, an entire tree can spring to life.

 Settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, a group of these headstrong and motivated individuals have already turned tables. Rotarian, and founder of Florence Nightingale Global Health, Florence Allbaugh, turned her hope and eagerness to help into a reality in communities all over the Philippines. Born in Manila, Philippines, Florence moved to the U.S. at a young age but always stayed in touch with her family and roots overseas. As an active member of Rotary, Florence used her connections to jumpstart her plans by organizing medical missions to make a difference in meaningful and deserving communities abroad.         

Every great and challenging project must start somewhere. For the mission team, their journey to helping people in Pambujan in northern Samar, Philippines, began without any funds. However, with a goal in mind of providing medical and dental care to rural Filipino communities, the team began to pave their path. Through hard work and constant dedication, around $4000 was raised in private donations from locals and churches. $4000 may seem like a small amount to make any “real change” but through precision planning and community support, adults and children alike were helped in ways that could impact the rest of their lives.

Upon arrival in Manila, Philippines, the team faced another challenge due to the fact that they were bringing medicine and medical supplies into the country. After back in forth communication with local security, a letter of invitation from the Benedictine Sisters finally allowed them to go through with the vital supplies that were needed.

After becoming settled into the hospital where they would both be staying, and providing help, the team began to take into heart the dire needs of local children. Medical and dental resources were not the only things the community was lacking in. Only a short walking distance from the Saint Scholastica Hospital, was an elementary school for 450 children. Inside the classrooms that lacked walls and flooring, children did not have clean drinking water. The students were extremely malnourished because the school could not provide any food. Many kids did not even have shoes. Eager to extend generosity, the team provided local mothers with food to prepare for all 450 of the schoolchildren. This one meal held a lot of significance considering their nutritional circumstances; some of these children had gone the entire week without any food.

Back in the Hospital, the team quickly got to work. A pediatric clinic was set up and staffed by Dr. Ann Farash, who tended to the needs of patients with cases ranging from superficial skin infections, to physical disabilities, to cerebral palsy. Patients and their families were treated or helped out in any way possible. A pediatric dentistry clinic, staffed by Paul Onnink, provided basic dental hygiene needs to both adults and children alike; including children from the elementary school. They painted on fluoride varnish to protect their teeth from cavities. In a community as impoverished as Pambujan, something as simple as protecting teeth is a rescue remedy. The team was also joined by a Filipino intern, Dr. Insignia, who saw and treated adult patients. In addition, three local dentists came in to perform dental extractions. Collectively, around 650 patients were given life changing treatment and care, no matter how small.

Even with such little material resources, the children in Pambujan were nothing shy of grateful. As they were given simple bristled toothbrushes, they held them proudly above their heads and sang. Without being asked and even with a limited amount of educational resources, they made thank you cards for the team; writing whatever their bright and creative minds desired. Despite their rumbling bellies, the children graciously stood in line awaiting the food that their mothers had prepared. Humble and thankful are only two adjectives that could be used to describe these deserving children.

The care given in Pambujan was care that many people including myself, often take for granted. Simple check ups and basic medicines are common in the United States; we usually have an abundance of them. In areas like Pambujan, these resources are scarce. It doesn’t take but a little bit of hard work, dedication, and compassion to make a difference. Every little thing does count. Anyone can step up to the plate, and anyone can change the world.

Written by Lea Rose Allbaugh, UNCC.