Human Face

A mission hospital in Samar

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While the election campaign noise rises to a deafening level all over the country, somewhere a quiet miracle unfolds without much fanfare, without the cackle of do-gooders aka politicians, but accompanied by humble appeals that this worthwhile endeavor will see completion.

The Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines are building a 25-bed hospital in Pambujan, Northern Samar, in response to the community’s critical need. This is not a fancy hospital, but neither is it going to be a barely surviving one that will serve as the last stop of the dying poor or a morgue for the dead poor.

It is going to be the best for the least, one that the poor and the almost poor can proudly claim as their hospital because it serves their needs well at little or no cost. A dream, in other words, but also a dream that should come true.

I am told that generous supporters have come forward to pay it forward. The Salazar family has donated a 3.5-hectare piece of land where the St. Scholastica’s Mission Hospital will rise and stand as an example of persons helping persons with real names, addresses, illnesses and medical needs.

The building construction will be shouldered by Hyundai Asia Resources Inc., courtesy of CEO Fe Perez-Agudo, a St. Scholastica’s College alumna whose struggle to get a good education is a real-life telenovela tearjerker. Her phenomenal rise in the corporate world, despite the challenges she had to hurdle in her youth, is one for the books. But I digress.

And not to forget AIM of Vanves, France, that will provide a mobile bus clinic.

But much more is required for the hospital to be completed and, more importantly, for it to be sustainable. Sustainability, the in-word in these resource-challenged times, is key. Else why build something with a very limited lifetime or one that will be taken over by rot because resources ran out?

And so, a P100-million endowment fund campaign is now being waged to ensure the hospital’s long-term viability. Think long-term, think biblical, as in “the poor you will always have with you.” The sum of P100 million is enormous? But it will cover—for the long haul—hospital equipment and supplies, salaries, health workers’ training, and community social enterprises building. The last four words mean that the project is not hospital-centric but is a community outreach undertaking.

And community does not mean the receiving geographical environs only; it also refers to persons and groups in the bigger world out there that wish to get involved. The first frontline supporters are the alumnae of St. Scholastica’s College in Manila and loyal friends of the Benedictine Sisters (OSB) who have been serving in the Philippines for 105 years.

So the first call is to St. Scho’s true-blue “daughters true” whose lives were enriched by their Benedictine education. “Daughters true” are words taken from our school hymn. But the call is also directed to “Sr. Gratia’s Boys” in kindergarten. (An aside: Get your copy of “Daughters True: 100 Years of Scholastican Education,” a beautifully written and designed book and winner of a National Book Award from the National Critics’ Circle. You will get inspired.)

Be the first. Pay it forward. Ask for the brochure that lists the hospital’s concrete needs. Its cover, by the way, is framed by a big blue H (for hospital, yes)—the two vertical jumper straps with the connecting horizontal strip and six buttons of the St. Scho high school uniform.

But the call is also for other persons and groups that have ties to Samar, and those who care for its people.

Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, former president of St. Scho, former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters and chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of Women in the Philippines, is at the helm of the daunting fund-raising. She says no to pork barrel funds from politicians and grants from government institutions. “Mahirap na…”

Here are some facts and figures that can help situate this project: Northern Samar is one of the Philippines’ 10 poorest provinces. About 65 percent of its entire population live in the rural areas; 75 percent are into farming of coconut, rice and abaca; 16 percent are wholesale and retail traders; three percent are semi- and unskilled workers; and two percent are professionals (government employees and teachers).

The typical farmer today earns about P500 monthly and eats twice daily. A large percentage of preschoolers in remote areas are malnourished. Northern Samar has 411 elementary school teachers, 47 high school teachers and one state university—the reason for the 88-percent literacy rate. The migration rate is five per 1,000, mostly females 15 to 17 years of age, who work as housemaids or entertainers elsewhere. (Source: “Pledge yourself to a hospital.”)

According to a 2010 census, Pambujan is a fourth-class municipality with a population of 32,000.

Northern Samar has its share of tourism gems that can rival the popular ones in other parts of the country. Alas, the natural beauty may belie the downside that is crying to be addressed.

The Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica’s Priory are known not only for the academic excellence of their big schools but also for their missions in healthcare and education in Eastern Visayas. In 2009, the Diocese of Catarman, Northern Samar, appealed to them for assistance in building a mission hospital. The Benedictines conducted two surveys that showed the need for a private hospital in the province so that poor patients need not go to Tacloban City or Manila for treatment.

Do you want to pay it forward? Contact Sr. Mary John Mananzan (+63917-8980637 or smaryjohnm@gmail.com).

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Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com

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