My Mindoro Experience
I started working as a volunteer in the community of the Society of Divine Savior (SDS) in 2007. My tasks are varied. I taught English and Philosophy to first year seminarians, edited the theses of few fourth years, participated as one of the teachers in the classes that SDS initiates every summer, and many more. This community that stays in a place called Father (Fr.) Jordan Formation House in Talon, Amadeo, Cavite, Philippines provided me with many fulfilling, exciting, and wonderful opportunities. This group of priests and seminarians draws out and challenges me to use the skills I have. They also assist me in discovering what am I capable of doing. I could go on and on in telling my experiences with these people but at this point, my intention is to narrate
My Mindoro Experience
The Events: First Day
On April 26-29, 2012, I went with a priest named Fr. Hubert Kranz, eighteen seminarians of the SDS community, and a group of nuns called Daughters of the Immaculate Conception of Charity (DICC) to Mindoro. It is one of the beautiful islands of the Philippine Archipelago. With us were a Filipino and several foreign doctors, one or two families, pharmacists, a nurse, several teachers, and many other volunteers. We went to a specific place called Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro, our purpose, a medical mission, and the people we intended to help, a group of minorities called the Mangyans.
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We hit the shores of Mindoro about an hour before noontime. The Italian doctors and the other foreigners checked-in in a place called Tamaraw Beach Resort. We left them there for the night. Later, we reached our destination. It was so hot but the men had to unload a lot of things, medicines, old clothes which we collected from different parishes weeks ago, food, our personal belongings, and other supplies. And so they did.
Later on, through the generosity and hard-work of a couple called Nanay and Tatay, lunch was ready. After sometime we settled down. We prepared the place and explored it. We found a river where we rinsed the salty water of the sea off our bodies. Some hid themselves from the piping heat of the sun, told jokes, found treats like green mangoes and fresh coconuts, and a ride on a cart that a carabao pulled. And of course, we took advantage of the clear sea water. In the afternoon, Fr. Hubert celebrated the mass with all of us at the shore.Towards the evening, we all looked for our nesting places.
The Medical Mission
The mornings of April 27and 28, Friday and Saturday dawned bright and clear. We were enthusiastic to start the day. We were all in high spirits and ready . Right after the mass and breakfast, we proceeded to Udalo Primary School where we held the medical mission. And the Mangyans came.
Sister (Sr.) Maritza, our leader, divided the group into teams. I belonged to the team of cathechists. With me were Sr. Jenny, and Brothers (Brs.) Dino, Randy, and Tony. We began our activities early in the morning and repeated them throughout the day and the next day. The children, began the two days with cathecism classes. After that, we led them to the river and the next team gave them a good bath while their parents and others waited and watched. By the way, we also took plenty of towels, bath soap, and shampoo to the river. Bro. Robert demonstrated to the children how to wash their dirty clothes. At the river bank, the “clothes and nail cutter” teams awaited to accomplish their tasks. The children remained on their places and patiently waited for new and clean sets of clothes to wear.
In the classrooms, other things happened simultaneously. The medical team immediately threw themselves to the tasks assigned to them. They put up a registration table. They checked the patient’s vital signs.They performed minor surgeries, circumcised some boys, diagnosed patients, and prescribed medicine.The pharmacists went through the prescriptions and dispensed the required medicine.
The other members of the group did equally essential tasks. Bros. Jeno and Randy, armed with scissors, comb, and electric hair cutter groomed more than twenty heads a day.The other brothers and volunteers sorted and distributed used clothes to both the Mangyans and the Tagalogs or the non-minority group who live in the community we served.
The last but not the least is the team that prepared the food. The Tagalogs together with some community leaders prepared food and fed the Mangyans.But for our group, Nanay, Linh, Minh, and the other Vietnamese brothers exerted extra effort to give us the best.
In between all these tasks we said our prayers. We chatted, rested, did mischief, paused for and took pictures, enjoyed the sunset and the moonlight, teased and played with children, had a side trip, and simply enjoyed each others company.
Mindoro - The Medical Mission 2012
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On Sunday morning, we heard mass in a nearby chapel. After breakfast, and taking more pictures, we boarded the boat again. We came home with two Mangyans that need further medical attention, a lot of wonderful memories, pride for accomplishing the objectives of the trip, and all the intention to go back.
Right after the Mindoro trip, I texted Fr. Hubert. I expressed my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to reach out to my own people. I actually begged him to include me in a similar activity if they would go again next year. This is so because it gave me a sense of fulfillment. We were so tired at the end of the two medical mission days but a dip in the water washed away all the grimes and the tiredness from our bodies. On the last night I intentionally did not sleep right away. I consciously stayed awake till late, knowing that everything would end the next morning.
This trip gave me several realizations. First, I was struck by the kindness of the hearts of Sr. Maritza and the Italian lady who initiated this wonderful idea. Organizing people, raising funds, and gathering stuff for the Mangyans are not that easy. All these took time, effort, and that much needed goodness of the heart and concern for others.
I am a bit familiar with some SDS brothers but during this mission, I saw a different facet of each one’s personality. One of the brothers said, “You know Ate (Older sister), we take care of the people here but Linh and Minh take care of us.” Minh who flashes a ready smile to everyone is a Vietnamese ex-military man. He was assigned to cook the rice for more than fifty persons. He apologized profusely to anyone who would listen for over-cooking the rice, once. And Linh, an able-bodied and hard-working young Vietnamese took his responsibility to his heart. He assisted the cook all throughout the four days and cooked porridge for a little Magyan that stayed with us for the night. Tin, the stern-looking and strong athlete showed his soft side as he approached the children. And surprisingly, they gravitated towards him, as well. Thai, my soft-spoken student opened up and joined me in trimming the nails of the kids. He helped Minh and Linh, assorted the used clothes, and was there where he was needed. Luat and Francis provided humor, went and offered their ready hands to the sisters and to anyone who needed assistance.
The Filipino brothers did not pale in comparison. Robert, the handyman built and provided everyone with a tent and lights. He was the leader of the “bathing” team and did his task till all those who wanted to take a bath was attended to. He drove me to tears in the solitary confinement of a comfort room when he came carrying a very old woman wrapped in white cloth to consult one of the doctors. Dino sang for the children, taught Cathecism and led the Mangyans to where they should be till the last minute of the mission. Jenno and Randy literally took care of Perry, a volunteer nurse and me. The other brothers did the tasks assigned to them quietly. They actually passed unnoticed but definitely engaged.
Prior to the trip, I was a bit worried by the accommodations. I knew that we were not supposed to go to an excursion but I prepared just the same. During the first two nights, I slept in one of the classrooms. Only a thin mat was between the concrete floor and my back but because of that happy, tired feeling, I slept like a log. On the third night, the waves lulled me to sleep on sand and under the moonlight. In other words, there was no wall nor a ceiling. Fr. Hubert said, “Tourists pay a big amount of money for this experience.”
I am very lucky and definitely blessed! Aside from witnessing the good deeds, and the generosity of the hearts of the people, I realized how much I have. I am a teacher for a long time and teaching comes as a second nature to me. But when I faced the Mangyan children for a simple story telling, my throat went dry and tears wet my eyes. This group of people came to see us with a lot of expectations. And mind you what they want are the necessities: food, clothing, medicine, and perhaps, at the farthest end of the long list, education. I do not want to raise a pointing finger and say YOU should be the one to attend to these people. I do not want to ask why are they like that, forsaken, deprived, and I do not know what else. Somebody should do something for them and I am glad, we did in our own way. Not much, but something to start with!
All the activities, the turn of events, and the sense of fulfillment made this trip truly great. However, the company was an added and much welcome bonus! There was such great chemistry that each one found a buddy or a group. As soon as a task was done there was a tendency to look for another thing to do or anyone to assist.
Right after the trip, one of the brothers uploaded the pictures and one or two of them appeared on my Facebook account. A co-teacher saw them and sent this comment, “Oh, Lerma that is so fulfilling! I am envious!” And I replied, “Yes, you are damn right! Next year, I will move mountains to repeat the same experience!”
Lerma D. dela Peña