PHILIPPINES NOV 2008
PHILIPPINES NOV 2008
OLONGOPO, LUZON, PHILIPPINES -- NOVEMBER 2008
From November 6 – 23, 2008 in the city of Olongopo, Luzon Province, over 5,000 people were seen, 65 cataract surgeries performed, and over 4,000 glasses were given away by TWECS.
Where in the world is Olongopo? – by Dr. Pasqualino Marcantonio, OD
That was the question I asked myself when I received an e-mail from my provincial optometric association asking for ODs interested in participating in an optometric mission to the Philippines.
I’ve been in practice 33 years and optometry has been very good to my family and me. Lately, I felt a strong urge to give back something for all the good that I was so fortunate to receive. I took the plunge and submitted my name.
It was the best and most rewarding thing I have done in a very long time.
Let me tell you about the experience. First, you have to know that it really is a labour of love. You have to understand that you not just lose time from your work but you personally pay for all your own expenses including the flight, the food, and the accommodations. In my case, that was about $2700. Much of that can be considered a charitable/ promotional expense, just ask your accountant.
TWECS takes care of all the logistics including booking flights, accommodations, and local contacts and transportation and dealing with the local officials. They have organized over 17 projects from East Africa to Vietnam and from Peru to Cambodia. TWECS runs safe and well administered projects.
The projects TWECS organizes are always geared to help the poorest of the poor. The projects are self-contained and complete from the moment the patient walks in to the time they leave with a pair of glasses, it costs them nothing. And we require nothing except an area in which to work.
But I digress; let’s get back to Olongopo.
The city of about 100,000 is located 3 hours north of Manila near a decommissioned US naval base called Subic Bay. The city is re-emerging from the economic blow received when Subic bay naval based closed in the 1990s.On the surface, you would be unaware that the city had been hurt by the closure of the naval base. The streets were clean, vibrant and alive and people were everywhere. Belying the fact that the average family income is $6 a day There seemed to be a concerted campaign in town bent on raising the sprit and pride of the citizens. An abundance of slogans, posters and songs extolling the citizens to AIM HIGH OLONGOPO and FIGHT FOR EXCELENCE were everywhere.
The project in Olongopo lasted 9 clinic days divided into 2 sections. One full day was dedicated to treating the residents of an indigenous tribal group of Aetas who were resettled near Olongopo from the area around Mount Pinatubo following the eruption of that volcano which destroyed their villages.
We examined / treated / dispensed 500 patients that day. How can you possibly do that you may ask? The secret is organization and delegation.
Let me describe a typical clinic day. You get up at 6 am and have breakfast and are on the bus by 7 am. When you arrive at the clinic site, which happens to be the local sports arena in the centre of the city, there are already 550 people inside the arena some of whom have been waiting for you since 4 am. Along with another 100 outside who arrived late but are hoping that someone will leave so they can take their place.
As you walk in, they all stand up and clap and give you a standing ovation! When was the last time a patient showed you that much appreciation?
The team is composed of many walks of life. There were 4 young university students, a 64 year old retired office worker, a sales rep for a contact lens company, a 74 year old British ex-pat businessman with wonderful wit and eloquence, an optometric assistant and long time TWECS administrator, one assistant in an ophthalmology office, a retired biologist turned piano tuner, a statistician / amateur photographer, 2 opticians and 4 optometrists ranging from under 30 to a spry 57 year old (that would be me!) Some had been on projects before but most of us were first timers.
All had a role to play.
Some worked the registration desk, others did visual acuity, one did auto-refraction, one did triage. The optometrists did refractions, ophthalmoscopy, slit lamp and disease treatments when appropriate. The opticians dispensed and did exit visual acuities and finally the statistician kept track of it all. Someone took responsibility to keep everyone supplied with everything from bottled water to clipboards to fans to snacks. We had excellent local support with local nurses who acted as interpreters for us.
Altogether we gelled into a well-oiled and efficient machine. How efficient you might ask?
Well, not to brag, but in 9 days the team examined over 6,000 people, and dispensed 4,000 pairs of glasses. (No kidding, just ask the statistician.) All free of charge.
Was it rewarding? Personally, I cannot remember a more rewarding professional experience except perhaps the passing of TPA legislation in NB. For 2 weeks, you meet and live with people who have given up as much as you have to be here and it is so refreshing to discover that there are people in this materialistic world who are prepared to give of themselves with no expectation of reward except a heartfelt thank you.
Interesting cases, here is just a personal sampling:
- How about the high school boy who needed -22.00 D glasses but we only had glasses up to -17.00 so we gave him 2 pairs one -17 and one -5.00 to use one over the other. Don’t ask me how he managed to get through school before this.
- Or the old lady who came in with shopping bags made of recycled Mylar juice bags. She could not see to thread her needle to sow the bags together and could no longer earn a living. Just a simple pair of reading glasses was all she needed to keep on working.
- Then there was the little 8 year old girl with the turned-in eye that required a + 8.00 Rx and the eye just seemed to straighten right out almost immediately.
- The 3-year-old boy with an acute purulent, bacterial eye infection who just need a topical antibiotic.
- Sometimes you just felt like a miracle worker.
Heartbreaks, yes, there were some:
- The impotence felt when facing someone with dense cataracts beyond our help but with the frustrating knowledge that a free, 20 minute operation would give him back his sight…if only he lived in Canada.
- The frustration of seeing a patient with obvious glaucomatous discs who could be controlled with medication. Instead he was destined to go blind just because he could not afford the cost of eye drops.
- The heart-rending cases of toddlers with congenital cataracts who were destined to a dark world just because cataract surgery was beyond there reach.
Could we do more? Of course we could. Did we do some good? You bet we did. Was it appreciated? Well, consider that on our last day, besides the 550 people already inside the clinic, there were at least another 500 outside standing in line all around the arena just waiting and hoping for a small miracle.
If you want to make a difference, and if you want to give back and show your gratitude for the good fortune you have received, consider joining a TWECS project.
As my team demonstrates, all types of people and backgrounds can participate productively You do not have to be an optical professional or involved in eye care. You just need the willingness to be part of a group that wants to do some good.
I hope to see you on my next TWECS project,
Pasq Marcantonio, OD
PHILIPPINES PROJECT, NOVEMBER 6- 21 2008 - BY DR. ADRIENNE LEVASEUR
This trip was a wonderful experience. It is difficult to come up with any points of constructive criticism from this trip.
We met at the Vancouver Airport at 7pm on November 6th 2008. I had never met any of the team members. I had spoken to Marina, the trip organizer, on the phone once. I had also received several e-mails about the upcoming trip, but somehow I felt that I had no idea what to expect. There was a certain element of faith in the organization that was necessary in order to remain composed as I embarked on this journey.
I had checked out the TWECS website, which was impressive, but other than Marina I had not spoken to anyone who had been on a TWECS project. I really had no idea what to expect. I had been on one other volunteer eye care project while I was an optometry student at Waterloo. That trip turned out to be a heart breaker, as we never saw the 10,000 pairs of glasses that we brought with us make it through Mexican customs. The trip was a complete waste of time, effort, and fundraising. I was hopeful that this would be a better experience.
Marinaâ€™s connections in the Philippines undoubtedly helped this trip run smoothly. Her cousin Nica, born and bred Filipina, was there every step of the way. Nica greeted us at the airport, at which point we were escorted VIP- style through customs with no line-ups and no hassles. All 10,000 pairs of glasses made it with us. A banner welcoming the Third World Eye Care Society hung at the airport exit. The office of James “Bong” Gordon, Mayor to Olongapo City, had arranged for the banner. A comfortable air-conditioned bus sat waiting for us to board. We met Fred at that time, who would prove to be a dear friend as well as host and entertainer to all of us. We headed from Manila to Olongapo city, with a stop for complementary breakfast along the way. We were taken on the new toll highway, which ensured a smooth and pleasant ride. Our accommodations in Olongapo were at the Mountain Woods Resort, a modest and cozy spot nestled in the tree tops overlooking Subic Bay and its surrounding mountains. Our rooms were air-conditioned, our beds were comfortable, and the staff was extremely hospitable. A pool with an incredible view would provide us with incentive to carry on at the end of many long exhausting days to follow. A grand piano in the lobby was played nightly, providing a soothing and relaxing atmosphere for those who were not hidden away in their rooms swooning under the hands of inexpensive local massage therapists.
Marina our leader was very relaxed and approachable yet organized, flexible and efficient. She has an invaluable understanding of the challenges we face as foreigners trying to work in a third world country. She balances realistic expectations and priority setting with an incredible drive to work hard and make things happen. It is difficult for many of us to grasp the reality of working under such different conditions. It is important to have a leader who never fails to see the big picture rather than dwell on the frustrations that inevitably arise as a result of stepping away from our habitual standards of care.
Our days were long, hot, and exhausting. We were pampered with a constant supply of bottled water, Gatorade, lunch, and snacks. Everyone looked out for each other, and we worked together as a team to accomplish our goals. Thinking back on it now moves me substantially. I miss everyone from the team, I am proud of what we did, and I will cherish this memory always.
Adrienne LeVasseur, optometrist
Dec 30th 2008
Thoughts written on flight WJ671 from Toronto to Calgary
PHILIPPINES PROJECT, NOVEMBER 6- 21 2008 - BY WENDY TSANG
Due to my own chaotic travel plans, I arrived at the Vancouver airport from Calgary, nearly 10 hours before the rest of the team, due to some family obligations I needed to fulfill at the end of my trip. Having sent emails back and forth to Dr. Roma-March, I was sure by now, she was annoyed with my own forging of travel plans, and my dozens of emails in prior weeks. However, the first face-to-face interaction I had from Dr. Marina Roma-March was a genuine hug. It made me feel welcome, a part of a team, and later, enabled me to spend 5 hours at the outdoor pickup terminal excitedly waiting to meet the rest of the TWECS Olongapo Team.
I remember distinctly the first thing I heard when I saw the enormous TWECS box-filled-dollies. “Look! Her boxes look like ours!” I felt out of place, having missed the first 12 hours of bonding, but realized moments later, during photographs and the later bus trip, that everyone was as welcoming as Marina.
When we arrived in Olongapo, with some brief history lessons from our tour guides and my teammates, I could see that this city needed our help. Our first tour of the Aita community, in the Iram Resettlement Area humbled me, and their living conditions saddened me. The Aita, however, continually smiling, playing, and dancing, did not let their living conditions affect their happiness, profoundly changing my outlook of third world cultures.
During our first clinic day at the Iram Resettlement, in full escort of the SWAT team, I was ready to work. As our first patients arrived in dispensing, I remember putting all my worries and nervousness away, and worked. I was surprised to see all the equipment we brought along with us, and only truly missed one tool from a modern lab, the edger. It was remarkable to see the staff utilize and adapt to the space so quickly. I learned from them, and did my best that day. In realizing this, the day flew by, and before we knew it, we had gotten through our first day with big smiles, happy patients, and a day’s worth of good work.
Subsequent days in the Rizal triangle were progressively more organized, and our small team saw more and more people each day. I was glad that we worked to our highest capacities. It is why we had all made the long trip to the Philippines: to help as many people as we could.
My only disappointment was to see the countless patients with cataracts leave our clinic without any correction, or only seeing marginally better. With the handful of cataract surgeries that the hospital managed to arrange, we were unable to help the many cataracts, from the young to the elderly, which lined up within the early hours of the morning to see the team. In dispensing one post-cataract patient, I nearly broke into tears, as I fit his reading glasses and told the gentleman how lucky he was.
As we neared the end of our stay, our little team was, indeed transformed into a family of members (translators, volunteer nurses, hosts, guards, included) that each played a role in our tremendous success in Olongapo. I learned so much in two weeks. From words of wisdom (“Are you drinking your water?”) to tidbits about the optical business, I am absolutely sure that I learned at least one thing that I’ll never forget, from each and every TWECS team member.
As for our fearless leader, Dr. Marina Roma-March, I commend her. What she has achieved, through her multiple projects alike, is nothing short of amazing. Her sheer will and determination to provide aid to our patients compels me to re-examine myself, and pushed me to work harder for our cause throughout the project.
I am very proud, with the help of the TWECS Olongapo team, to have crossed the line of wanting to make a difference, to actually making a difference.
With greatest respect and thanks,