Teaching a handful to make thousands better #28storiesofgiving
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2014 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Busy corporate women with families and demanding day jobs meet in a makeshift office that is a 40-foot shipping container in Muntinlupa. Most of them are middle-aged, while a few are more senior with a contrast of personalities and fields of specialization. But they come together during their supposed “free time” with a shared mission: to make communities, albeit poor, healthy in body and lively in spirit.

They meet at least twice a week to discuss issues, explore where to get funding, identify urban poor settlements needing their services, and spend another day in an underserved barangay to train volunteer health workers and talk to them on one-on-one sessions as friends and mentors.

Roseanne Gonzales, who goes by the nickname Nannie, recounts her misgivings before she joined the 15-member Famcohsef, or Family Cooperation Health Services Foundation, four years ago. She had to make time for unpaid volunteer work without letting go of her hands-on approach as a mother of eight and a property manager.

She also wasn’t sure if she could adapt to the conditions involved: “I didn’t really like the idea of working under the bare sun for long hours.”

Now president of Famcohsef, Nannie sheds a tear, calling to mind encounters with women health workers who don’t have much materially but possess a priceless will to serve.

One relocation settlement near the New Bilibid Prison comprises 8,000 families with an average of five members each. Serving them is only one health center with one doctor, two nurses and two midwives who work eight-to-five shifts on weekdays.

Women barangay and community health workers, whom Nannie calls “good souls,” volunteer to be arms of the health center, each with 150 families under their care.

In an ideal world, the volunteers would be instructed by the health department. “But the reality is, there’s no such training. These women are only ordered around [by the medical practitioners] in the health centers. They’re tasked to take vital signs with no real training,” the soft-spoken Nannie explains.

“So we come in with what we call primary healthcare to teach them all about disease, prevention, sanitation, taking vital signs like blood pressure, temperature and pulse,” she adds.

Upon request of the local government, Famcohsef teaches health workers to monitor elderly people in the area, remind pregnant women to have their pre-natal checkup, or contain a measles outbreak among children.

The women also undergo personality development classes and are taught to imbibe professionalism, respect for life, self-reliance, love for learning and a spirit of service.

Perhaps what makes Famcohsef a unique endeavor is what inspired its beginnings two decades ago, when Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, a well-loved Spanish prelate, asked an audience in Manila in 1987: “What are you doing for the poor?”

Moved by the query, a group of women looked into the needs in urban poor areas and created Famcohsef.

To date, the team of eight or so has trained hundreds of health workers in Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Parañaque and Laguna as its contribution to a “national culture of excellence.” Del Portillo, meanwhile, is on his way to sainthood and will be beatified in Madrid this year.

Three years ago, the group “leveled up” their services, introducing programs on nutrition and care for children and the elderly that enabled trainees to get accreditation and to find employment elsewhere as caregivers or personal health assistants.

The initiative also sought to stem the untimely replacement of health workers upon the election of new local officials.

Nannie says the trainees, some of whom are senior citizens, have a newfound purpose.

“They undergo so many hours of training and by the time they graduate, they know all about the dignity of work. They have attended catechism classes and values formation and mentoring,” she explains.

Mentoring entails members of Famcohsef talking to each of the 50 or so women in the program every two weeks and hearing out their personal concerns.

Nannie says the friendly chats are a key part of the program, where trainees not only familiarize themselves with basic health terms but also become emotionally and spiritually mature to look after the ill, vulnerable and suffering.

“That’s what our program is all about – total care. We’re trying to put together the ideal health worker who has all the virtues, may pagmamalasakit,” she says.

People like Nannie have become volunteers for other volunteers, complicating their full schedules to become yet fuller.

“I think the beauty of Famcohsef is we can’t go beyond what we’re doing at the moment, given that we are all busy with other things,” she says. “We wish we could grow bigger but we believe the next step would be for others to replicate Famcohsef.”

 

(Editor’s Note: The Philippine STAR’s #28StoriesOfGiving is a campaign that turns the spotlight on 28 inspiring stories of people and organizations who devote their lives to helping themselves or others. Everyone is encouraged to post or tweet a message of support with the hashtag, #28StoriesOfGiving. For every post, P5.00 will be added to The STAR’s existing ‘give back’ anniversary fund. For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email contactus@philstar.com.ph  follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine STAR’s page on Facebook.)

BISHOP ALVARO DEL PORTILLO FAMCOHSEF FAMILY COOPERATION HEALTH SERVICES FOUNDATION HEALTH LAS PI MUNTINLUPA NANNIE WOMEN
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