IN THE 1990 to 1994 I headed the Upland Development Institute (UDI) and then again when I came back from Nepal from 2000 to 2004. One major program was primary health care with a mission of empowering communities to enable them to address their basic needs through a strong people’s organization (PO).
By the turn of the century, ICCO and EZE funded projects included the establishment of community based health care (CBHC). Part of the project was to organize a people’s organization; train community based volunteers and set up community health care centers where these volunteers can practice in serving their communities.
Those projects found us either in the villages of upland La Union, Benguet, Mountain Province and Kalinga or our partner communities was being trained in Tuding, Baguio or elsewhere.
These activities brought results in training unfortunately; there was lack in people organization empowerment. It was an irony since some of the partner communities were considered to be cohesive in their tribal lifestyle and traditions. There were people organizations formed but they did not reach a maturity to undertake responsible leadership in forming responsive programs and proactive advocacies for their people.
When the project ended, after a few years some of these POs ceased to function.
Exciting moments in this work included seeing the people undertaking volunteer work for their own people and honest leadership to empower others. We have seen some PO officers who will choose volunteers among relatives while others let the organization select those who they think are capable of doing the job.
In some ways both manner of selection works, but there were those that did not. Sense of fulfillment is what I feel when I see them taking responsibility by response to problems and issues they encounter in coming up with their health care programs like; finding alternates when volunteer gets pregnant and unable to go for training, the health center needs materials and supplies, the location of their botika sa barangay, the policies for their CBHC and other matters of importance.
Our CBHC partner communities included; Chananaw in Tinglayan, Sumadel in Pasil both in Kalinga;Bekigan and Poblacion of Sadanga, Tagudtod of La Union and Tubo of Abra. But we also had training from Buguias, Mankayan, Besao, Sagada, Bontoc other communities of Abra and Kalinga. As we partner with the communities we come to know them better and identify their leaders and those who have potentials in making the program successful.
Manny Onalan, Ferdie Aga-id (bless his soul), George Facsoy, Jimmy Galinggan, Petilyne, Dr. Joan Javellana, Dr.Florence Dela Pena, Nestor Caoili, Gerry Doc Vicky, my brother Andrew, Leila and others (my memory fails me at the moment of writing) have trained and led people in the communities. Most of us have moved on to other ventures like government service, business and other endeavors, but the past made a bearing in our lives.
By the end of my term I had the chance to visit the communities for the last time. I had visited the other communities earlier, but Tubo was just one visit as the end of my term approaches. As usual we crossed the Abra River three times aboard a raft then hiked to the community. I saw the barangay health center with a botika (pharmacy) filled with the concoctions and tea like lagundi, sambong and other herbal plants. They had a list of trainings the volunteers can conduct, they had records of their patients and modalities conducted which includes moxa stick for colds etc, acupuncture and acupressure, ventosa, etc. It was just like those I found in the other communities where the trained volunteers try to respond to basic health issues of the members of their “ili”s or communities.
Though I frequented Abra for the indigenous peace and justice system project in partnership with the church and Caritas Australia that funded the project, a visit to Tubo was elusive. At one time that we were to gather data from Tubo, it was unfortunate that I was not able to accompany the team led Fr. Emil Pati.
I lament because now, I am in the seaside and basic health care is nowhere, not even a barangay health worker that a pregnant woman gives birth in a tricycle because after the midwife retired no one took her place. That common cold remedies have to be brought to the provincial hospital as no one is equipped to respond to the kids.
I am glad I did community development work when I was in my 30-50s. Looking back it was a different life and at this age, it would be difficult to climb less hiked paths, near to impossible to walk for prolonged periods without water and rest, cross swollen rivers and carry those backpacks.