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‘We care about Catanduanes’

Some of the 200-plus CIA members and volunteers who joined the medical mission. Members of the non-profit group come from all over US and Canada.

MANILA, Philippines - The goal of helping medically deprived provincemates goes back to a moving scene many years back on the island.

Dr. Virgilia Guerrero was practicing her profession in a rural area in Catanduanes and among her first patients were a mother and child. After consultation, the mother sheepishly admitted that she had no money to pay for the services. Instead, she handed the doctor some eggs and bananas as token payment. The encounter left such an impression on Dr. Guerrero and her husband, Engr. Jose Guerrero, refusing to go away even when they had migrated to the US.

In Chicago where the couple settled, Engr. Guerrero dreamed of putting up an organization that would bring together fellow Catandunganons on a grander scale.

After years of networking – appealing to and convincing other groups on the merits of going international – Engr. Guerrero fulfilled his dream.

Catanduanes International Association (CIA Inc.) was formally launched during the first grand reunion of Catandunganons at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Illinois, with Guerrero himself as its first president.

Lydia Mendez, CIA chairman of the board, recalls that they only had eight members when they conducted their first medical mission in Catanduanes in 1993 – a far cry to the over 200-strong contingent of medical practitioners and volunteers that came this year. This speaks well of the dynamic growth of the association and its impact on organizers and program beneficiaries.

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Recently, CIA held its 9th Medical and Humanitarian Outreach Mission in Catanduanes. An online fundraising campaign started by treasurer Franklin Enriquez underscored the need for more support in light of the devastation caused by super typhoon Nina on the island.

Earlier, current CIA president Dr. Oscar Enriquez had been networking with family and friends and traveling all over the US to solicit financial assistance. One important family occasion, the 90th birthday of his mother, doubled as a fundraising event, with guests encouraged to support the mission in lieu of birthday gifts. The doctor also parlayed his professional influence into purchasing tons of medicines and necessary supplies.

So many others took the same route.

A 92-year-old beneficiary receives a bag of relief goods.

In what appears to be a case of good intentions attracting similar interests, CIA learned about the efforts of Global Caring Foundation (GCF), an Arizona-based philanthropic group, to fulfill the needs of underserved populations and healthcare providers from around the world. An earlier plan of the GCF to conduct a mission in another Asian country fell through but opened up an opportunity for a link-up with CIA.

On Feb. 6 to 10, CIA and GCF, along with their local counterparts from the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC) led by hospital chief Dr. Vietrez Abella, ministered to the needs of hundreds of beneficiaries coming from different municipalities.

During the Governor’s Night dinner, Vice Governor Shirley Abundo likened the medical mission to a “rainbow after the rain” while Governor Joseph Cua considered it a “celebration of kindness and generosity.”

In response, CIA president Oscar Enriquez quoted Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”

In the pediatrics section where this writer pitched in as interpreter for the American doctors who did not understand Filipino or the local dialect, and for the patients who could not speak English, I witnessed this spirit of caring and empathy up close.

Jamelah Tucker, a pediatrician from Florida, tended to her young, sometimes agitated patients with utmost grace and compassion. She also shared this insight: “We spent so much time learning what we need to know about child care, so sharing our knowledge is not a bother at all. We will be there wherever children need help.”

From what I’ve seen, it wasn’t a one-way street. I stood speechless at the sight of a young girl, about three years old, who came running with outstretched arms in the direction of a teenage American volunteer. As they embraced each other tightly, the smiles on their faces told a tacit tale of two sisters from different mothers connected by the spiritual act of giving and receiving – with both of them deeply enriched by the connection made possible by one humanitarian endeavor.

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