“Hello? Where are you now? Please hurry, the bus is about to leave! ” The voice on the other end of the line seemed vexed but obviously tried to keep her cool. I jumped out of the train at Cubao when I got that phone call, wishing to have wings to fly to the station where our bus to Cagayan Valley was. I had an erroneous information about the time of departure (11:30pm instead of 11:00pm) thus left me only 5 minutes to catch the long-awaited trip to the place which stories in my elementary history books had amazed me most - IFUGAO.
As an ultimate “buzzer-beater”, I was overjoyed to see the bus, especially Mrs. Alice Torres Banas, (EVP of MAP) or “Tita Alice” as I fondly call her, who was my former college professor, who also became my former co-teacher in our Alma Mater, and now my mentor in the graduate school. Adjacent to our seat, there were also two lovely ladies to whom I was introduced by Ms Banas. One is a nurse who is also a member of the executive committee of MAP, Mrs. Tess Calupig (Tita Tess), who has a strong sense of IPR (interpersonal relationship) as the way she threw her “hello” to me.
The other is a “miss”teriously single and quiet lady, the former batchmate and friend of Tita Alice who also worked as a MAP Community Health Nurse in her beginning years as a nurse- Ms. Luz Lacerna or Tita Luz. “Where are the others? I thought this trip is a medical mission with a team of nurses and other medical professionals,” I just said to myself. With innate sensitivity, Tita Alice said,”The purpose of this trip is to make an initial revisit to the place where MAP nurses had served years ago and coordination to the LGUs regarding the upcoming Operation Samaria or OS.
At the same time, a “balikbayan”, Tita Luz, will also give some gifts she had brought from the US for the friendships she had built with the natives in Ifugao, during her stay there years ago as a CHN. ” I became more thrilled. This was actually their trip and I was just tagged along. The way from Manila to Isabela was a 7-8 hours drive with no traffic jam but with several lay over. We arrived at 6:30 am. In a while, the bus collector, driver and some other men at the bus station, began carrying down 11 sacks full of US goods.
I was thunderstucked to just even imagine how Tita Luz was able to pack those. After “pinoy-style” breakfast at a nearby local eatery, the Vice Mayor Joseph Angowan arrived with his wife in their van. Quite opposite to my expectations, the vice mayor came out of the van, not as a stern-looking man as I thought of most politicians, but as a simple-looking man wearing all smiles in his jeans and polo shirt under his patrol vest. As he approached and greeted my three companions, I sensed that deep connections among them.
True to my intuition, I later learned that during the time when Tita Alice and Tita Luz were assigned there, the now vice mayor was just a little farm boy then who used to play around the clinic. His parents who had come to know Jesus Christ through the ministry of the MAP Nurses were his guide to his formation of Christian values he has acquired through the years. “I only have one vice, and that is beetle-nut chewing,” he told us with a smile showing off his pinkish teeth. “The Sunday school teachings and the dedication to the work of the MAP nurses had greatly influenced me to also serve my town in my own way. His statement, an inspiring one, made me see through the car window a better view of the vast fields of greens. In just a short time, we had reached the town named Alfonso Lista which he presently serves. It is one of the most developed communities in Ifugao. My three companions began comparing the place, its past and the now. There had been obvious developments, they told me,like the small public market, distilled water stations, and source of electricity which they did not have before.
Yet some things remained as before like its people’s warmth in welcoming visitors like us. Also, their major source of living is still farming and many houses are still reachable by walking. Children still play outside with real farm animals and birds and not Farmville nor Angry Birds. After a quick stop at Vice Mayor’s town, we went to the house of Tita Luz’s old friend, which was a little far from the town. She was Manang _______. Manang was the faithful partner of Tita Luz in going to houses of the natives for home visits, doing medical and nursing interventions, etc. hen Tita Luz served there as a CHN during her prime years as a young professional nurse. It was like one of the scenes of “MMK” when they hugged each other. I had seen in Manang’s eyes the bliss of seeing Tita Luz after her last visit of more or less five years ago. The joy she felt in seeing her was incomparable with the happiness of receiving the material gifts from the “balikbayan” sacks. Our true mission had just started as we went off to the town of Galonogon. It was a long and winding road to the place as it was located on a higher altitude than that of Alfonso.
We went there immediately after a 2-hour meeting at the Vice Mayor’s office with the operators of the Botika Binhi, a project of MAP in partnership with another NGO in order to make the community self-reliant in terms of access to medications. It was already dark when we arrived to the town proper of Galonogon, thus, we spent the night in a decent inn just near to the Municipal Hall, Health Center and the mini-market place where we had our morning breakfast of fresh fish,fruits and green leafy vegetables the next day with the view of the Ifugao mountains facing us. From the serene community of Galonogon, we still trailed another mile (approx. to reach the town of Jacmal where we had met with the former Barangay Health Workers (BHWs) and volunteers whom the MAP nurses had trained before, and with the community leaders, Barangay Captain, Spiritual Leaders and the Councilor for Health to tackle about the highlight of our visit there- the renovation and re-opening of the Hilgendorf Clinic. Upon visiting the clinic which was quietly resting on a plateau atop a mountain, my imagination ran as the stories were told of how the clinic, now old and worn-out, stood as the haven of the former MAP Nurses and volunteers.
The operation of that small clinic which was participated by the natives there, especially the old ones, made a big impact in the lives of the many people there, especially those times when medical assistance and supplies were scarce, illiteracy rate was high and the only resort of people when sick was the tribal healing through rituals. MAP nurses, the BHWs and volunteers hiked one mountain to another (which Tita Alice and Tita Luz had done before when they still had the “Ifugao strength”, as they call it) just to reach a amily or a person in need of medical assistance. Each town then had built improvised tents as rooms for patients who needed to be confined for close monitoring/intensive care; patients were transferred through improvised stretchers by bare foot at most cases when the helicopter was not available; and most of all, nurses also shared to them the good news of the salvation by their hymns and most of all, by their love for God which were manifested in their dedication to their profession.
As I took pictures of the clinic, I noticed many things for refurbishing like the broken window panes, rusty metal rain pipes, opened ceiling and dysfunctional toilet sits. But amazingly, the infrastructure stood tall amidst all calamities and climate change which went through, just like the strong desire of the people there to revive the operation Hilgendorf for the benefit of the present generation. The need for one was justified by the distance of the place to the health care facilities in cases of emergencies.
Health education also needs strengthening for the promotion of health and prevention of illness towards a more self-reliant community. Lastly, the clinic will also be used in the upcoming Operation Samaria (OS) 2012 this May as a shelter for the volunteers, so immediate action should be done accordingly. After Tita Alice and Tita Tess coordinated the plan with the Municipal Officers, which was actively participated by the Town Mayor, we were finally driven back by Vice Mayor Angowan, who was so kind enough to be our “driver” all throughout the journey, and to the station where the bus which would take us to Cubao was.
There are lots of other people they knew which I have not mentioned here had we met and visited, people who had been a part of their journey as MAP Nurses and who had stayed with them before. These people may just be part of their past, but I know, their influence to their lives will have infinite value…just like the way they had touched mine in just two days of seeing God’s work in Ifugao through them. “I will see you again on May, Ifugao” I whispered. In my heart, I am certain that God’s vineyard there will continue to flourish through this “maphod” (ifugao language meaning “good”) experience. -End-