While on board Baleno Tres, I knew I was in for something so awesome that will nurture my benevolent spirit. You see, I volunteered myself to a medical mission organized by Katutubong WHARF Link, a local group of volunteer friends coming from different backgrounds. It was an opportunity to serve my fellow countrymen in this part of Mindoro; the calling was strong I could not let it pass.
It was a sleepy, slow ride aboard with other volunteers. All were set to embark on a noble mission for the Mangyans in Siyapo, Sta. Cruz, Occidental Mindoro. Doing charity work is not new to me – I visit a local orphanage every year with my choir – but the experience waiting for me in Siyapo is definitely something new. I have no idea how a medical mission runs specially if its conducted in an almost remote village on the other side of Puerto Galera.
So as I have expected, a short briefing was conducted in the evening upon reaching Farmer’s Place Hotel – a simple lodge with fluctuating electricity but definitely enough to stay for the night. Roles were given at the big lounge that also serves as the dining area. I imagined how the mission would go the following day as the group’s leader discussed the workflow.
At about six in the morning the group was geared up for the mission. My mind was set to put all my energy for the Mangyans. This was the day I was waiting for.
It was a small village near the foot of a mountain. A number of nipa huts stood near the only cemented building in the village – a small barangay hall that served as the site for the mission. Every one proceeded to the hall after a solemn Filipino mass was celebrated.
This is how it went: the Mangyan, a native of Mindoro, registers on the entrance, have his weight and height measured, and then waits to be checked by the doctor or the medicine student of the group. Assessment is written on a piece of paper. Vitamins or medicines recommended or requests for laboratory examinations are included. He would then proceed to the pharmacy where medicines and dosage instructions are given. Then he would collect his family’s loot bag which includes rice, canned goods, salt, sugar and some clothes. Outside the hall he can get his dental check-up.
I was stationed to work in the makeshift pharmacy inside the hall. My job was to release the medicine specified and explain the dosage to the Mangyan. It was a challenge conversing with most of them since they have a dialect of their own. I had to make sure they understand what I was saying or else they might take the medicines erroneously.
Hours passed without me noticing it. Then I was asked to do something I never expected. I had to rehabilitate a dehydrated baby Mangyan boy who was crying helplessly in the arms of her mother. He was so small, the kind I only see in pictures of famine-stricken land. The mother is malnourished and cannot produce milk; she can only feed her baby with water. I felt a lump in my throat but there is no room for tears in that hall. I grabbed a bottle of Pedialyte and two kinds of baby vitamins and started dropping liquid nourishment in his mouth.
I wonder how many missions are needed for that small village in Siyapo. I wonder how they are after they have consumed their loot bags. What’s next after the last drop of medicine? How can they afford the laboratory examinations if they do not even have money to buy food? I sometimes think that it was better to just let them be who they are originally and not mess with their way of life. But thoughts of that small, fragile Mangyan child help me think otherwise. I know I would be back in that small, sleepy town.