I felt both elated and terrified when I first sent the email to Minnesota VOSH to confirm my participation in the 2014 VOSH Mission to the Philippines. I had so many questions! Will I be safe traveling as a solo female? What vaccinations will I need? What do I pack?…and the list goes on. But as the plans for the trip fell into place I soon realized that I would not be left high and dry with my list of unanswered questions. There were 25 people scheduled to participate in our trip to the Philippines, and the experience of this team ranged from first VOSH Mission trip to 45th VOSH Mission trip! All along the way, the veterans, especially Dr. Hess who was leading the trip, helped to make sure we all had the information we needed to prepare for the trip.
My adventure to the Philippines started with a 4:00AM arrival at the airport. From there we spent the entire day flying! We flew from Minneapolis to Chicago, from Chicago to Tokyo, and then finally from Tokyo to Manila. After 20 hours of travel we were all excited our first day of traveling was done! We spent the next day touring the busy city of Manila before heading to our final destination. The last leg of our trip included a one hour flight to Busuanga, a one hour by van ride along some rugged island roads, and then finally ended with a 30 minute boat ride.
Our three day mission started the next day. Our first stop was Coron Town where we set up clinic in an open gymnasium. I was amazed how quickly people began to pour in. By the time clinic was set up and ready to go, we had over one hundred people lined up ready to be seen. The lines continued the entire day and I was grateful that we were coming back again the next day. I was taken aback by how many people needed glasses. What really struck me were the people who simply needed reading glasses. Everyone over forty starts to lose their ability to focus, and ultimately needs reading glasses to continue to see up close. In the United States we don’t need to look any further than the check out lane at the pharmacy to find reading glasses. For these folks however, access to reading glasses is not so easy. With something as simple as a pair of reading glasses, we were able to give people back their ability to do things like reading the newspaper or sewing. Overall, our time in Coron Town was very successful. We had two very busy days and saw 1200 people!
On the last day of our mission, we set up clinic in a small fishing village near our resort. We were not as busy as the first two days, but we were still able to help around 200 people. Most of the folks we saw spend their entire day outside either fishing or in the fields, and I was very grateful that we had enough sunglasses to go around. After three days of working in the heat, we were ready for our days of relaxation! We snorkeled, hiked, kayaked, went scuba diving, toured town, and soaked up the sun.
What I learned about the Filipino culture and people while on this mission is that they are a strong and positive people. We had great support from Coron Town and the generous individuals who took time away from work to help translate for us. It was a pleasure to be able to work with and provide eye care to such a friendly community of people. Overall this trip was an amazing experience and I would encourage everyone to participate in a trip!
Notes about this trip:
Jim Hess, O.D., led a mission to the island of Busuanga in the Philippines in the Fall of 2014. Housing was at a small resort called El Rio y Mar and the work days are split between the rural village of San Jose and the larger town of Coron City. This island has a great need for eye care and was also affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
El Rio y Mar is a very tranquil setting accessible only by boat which has great views, excellent snorkeling as well as an inifinity pool, and wonderful food. This destination has become a favorite among some VOSH volunteers who have traveled to many other locations around the world. Check out their web site at elrioymar.com.