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December 15, 2011

St. Bernard And Its Heroes

When CNN declared that the Hero of the Year is Robin Lim, a midwife working in Indonesia, I told myself that Robin is just the face of many other midwives around the world, especially in the Philippines, who would sacrifice life and limb to deliver the most basic health care services to those who cannot access these. When I visited St. Bernard, a municipality in Southern Leyte, and met its hardworking midwives and RHU personnel, I was brought back down memory lane when I was a municipal health officer. I was a fresh graduate then and despite my being a neophyte, I was welcomed by my RHU personnel with warmth and respect. I arrived in my RHU thinking that I was to bring them new and more modern ideas. I ended up learning from them. The midwives were my mentors. Thus, when I met the midwives of St. Bernard, I had the same respect and admiration for them. They actually reminded me of my former midwives.

The municipality of St. Bernard grabbed the headlines a few years ago when an entire village got buried by a massive landslide. A huge section of the mountain covered more than a thousand individuals. One of the victims was the nurse of the municipal health office, the late wife of the current Municipal health officer. From that tragedy, the people of St. Bernard learned from lessons of the past and regained their strength once again. The purpose of our visit to St. Bernard was actually to observe what they have done so far when it comes to their local health system since the time their Mayor (Mayor Rico) and their PHN attended the first module at the University of Makati. At the same time, we are also here to facilitate the mortality review which we would like our partner-municipalities to institute and formalize as part of their strengthened local health system. The staff was also trained on Health information System.

One of the highlights of our visit is our trip to 2 of St. Bernard's health stations. I was totally impressed when I met the Barangay Health workers, Kagawad for Health and the village leader (Barangay Captain) of Barangay Hindag-an yesterday. Their barangay health station was outstanding. What touched me the most was during our sharing with them (and Mayor Ric was with us as well)when the Barangay captain was asked why she supported the health program of her barangay by improving the barangay health station. She was a bit reluctant to answer at first but she basically said that it was all about helping her constituents that motivated her to do it. "How could you not do something when your kagawad for health would always remind you of your responsibilities? How could you not do something when your rural health midwife would always be there to remind you of the needs of the barangay?"

Indeed, with such limited budget, both the barangay captain and her kagawad for health were able to mobilize resources through soliciting support from rich families living in their village. They were able to purchase equipments and supplies that were enough to handle normal deliveries of mothers. With creativity they were able to innovate with some of their equipments like the bassinet for the newborn.

No one could question the motivation of the barangay captain. She told the mayor, "Look and see our day care center. Look and see our Health station. They are well furbished and well maintained. But look at my barangay hall. A prisoner's cell looks even better compared to our barangay hall. But because my priority is health and education, I prioritized them instead of my barangay hall. After all, the only use for the barangay hall is to hold sessions."

This statement is definitely a slap in the face of political leaders who would construct very nice city halls but would not even bother renovating their health outposts. They would host expensive parties and gatherings but would not even fund a simple community health summit or fund the travel expenses of midwives who would bring vaccines to the farthest sitio.

I left Barangay Hindag-an with the hope that somehow, somewhere, the zeal to serve is still there. At some point of my life, I have lost the enthusiasm and passion to continue the service for country and fellowmen. Day by day, I am beginning to regain what was once buried in the huge landslide of realities. Tonight is our last night in St. Bernard. I do hope it will definitely not be my last trip here.

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