WITH AN EFFORT, Cesar Salvador picked up the bottle of paracetamol with his good hand and gave it to the anxious mother whose daughter was resting her jaw on the long table crammed with donated medicine.
Beside him, other volunteers clad in red shirts belonging to the graduating Class 1970 of the University of Santo Tomas High School were busy dispensing medicine to patients who had earlier consulted with doctors also belonging to Class 1970. At one corner of the multi-purpose hall of Barangay Macamot in Binangonan, Rizal, Thomasian and other dentists were busy extracting bad teeth as typhoon rains swept through the barangay.
Salvador had again chosen to volunteer his services in another medical mission despite being partly paralyzed by serious stroke a decade before. He noted, however, that he still had the use of one good arm and one good hand.
“It makes me feel useful,” Salvador said of his commitment to the medical missions organized by his high school graduating class. “It makes me feel good to know I can help in my own small way.”
|Cesar Salvador and his classmates dispense medicine|
A few feet from Salvador, two Thomasian ladies were bringing refreshments to “kabatchie,” (a fellow graduate) Sixto Esquivias III, resting on a wheelchair. Esquivias had had a stroke a few months earlier but despite his partial paralysis, volunteered to attend the Binangonan mission. He had taken part in other medical missions before his stroke.
“He wanted to be here to show us moral support,” said Thelma Castillo, one of the key persons responsible for organizing the Batch 1970 medical missions. “We are very touched by his courage.”
|The USTHS 70 medical missionaries after their successful mission at Roxas District, Quezon City|
16 volunteer medical missions
The Thomasian’s free medical and dental clinic at Binangonan was their fourteenth since 2008. This one on July 19, 2012 benefited over 500 persons, most of them disadvantaged. It was the Thomasian’s third medical and dental mission to this town at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range with a population of some 7,000 persons.
Dr. Jimmy Barron, the acknowledged leader of the medical missions, noted that most of their patients were again children and women and that most of the cases they diagnosed were fevers and coughs and colds common during the rainy season.
“This is how doctors can help in their own way in their own expertise,” he said. “I am always grateful for this outpouring of support from fellow Thomasians. It’s the Thomasian spirit in action.”
|Binangonan residents at the medical mission|
Two months later, on September 16, the volunteers comprising the UST Class 1970 Medical Mission Society converged on Roxas District in Quezon City for a special medical and dental mission to assist residents whose homes were flooded by the southwest monsoon or “habagat.”
The floods that rose to a height of two meters were caused by the overflowing of two creeks that coursed through the flood-prone district and affected some 4,000 families. They were invited to help by the Holy Family Parish Church that held a mass in honor of the UST medical missionaries before the mission.
|Dr. Ralph Curiano diagnoses a patient at Binangonan|
For the fifteenth time since 2008, the veteran Thomasian volunteers unpacked cases of medicines; set-up equipment; and organized patients according to proven procedures. Then they went to work tending to the sick and injured amid intermittent rains.
|Dr. Jimmy Barron diagnoses a patient at Roxas District|
And for the fifteenth time, they spent their own money for the medicines and supplies they used, and donated their talents and time to a cause larger than themselves—caring for the least fortunate and the unlucky. No salaries are given and none are asked.
“It (the medical missions) lifts my spirit,” said Romy Villanueva, one of the core group that organized the missions. “It allows me to help in my small way.”
It is a statement of unconditional humanity shared by Cenon Fernandez, Lizbeth Benjamin, Ed Manahan, Malou Rico and Generoso Manuel, all of whom have served in most of the missions.
Nelia David, who has also served in almost all the medical missions, said the missions make her “. . . aware of how lucky we are. It’s also a fellowship for the batch; a bonding moment.”
She pointed out that the slogan printed on the back of their red shirts reads “Stayin’ Alive.” What the slogan really means, she said, is that the medical missions give Batch 1970 a cause for “Stayin’ Alive.”
|USTHS Batch 70 volunteers|
Upholding the Thomasian Spirit
The medical missions organized since 2008 by Batch 1970 remain the only ones conducted annually by any graduating class of UST High School. They uphold one of the high school’s core goals: to mold true Thomasians as “. . . responsible citizens dedicated to the service of God, the country and the whole world,”
But it is the unwavering commitment to the medical missions by the hard core of some 50 kabatchies in the Philippines and about the same number in the USA that has allowed this humanitarian movement to persevere. The Thomasian Spirit that unites these graduates runs long and runs deep.
It was that spirit that moved the kabatchies to donate the money needed to fund all the medical missions in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the medical missionaries received invaluable assistance from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and United Laboratories, Inc.
Butch Mate, who organized the Binangonan mission, said Batch 1970 can help more Filipinos in the future with more assistance, especially in medicine and medical supplies.
“We can do more if we had the logistics,” Mate noted. “We are thankful for whatever support we receive.”
|Awaiting their turn to onsult with doctors at the USTHS Class 70 medical mission in Roxas District|
Something more meaningful
The medical missions originated from an idea that something more meaningful should replace the group’s quarterly get-together. The batch only rediscovered its members in 2007 and in February 2008 celebrated their Grand Reunion.
After the reunion, the Thomasians decided to do away with the get together and organize a medical mission in its stead. The response among those who attended the organizational meetings was enthusiastic and preparations were made to launch the maiden mission in 2008.
“Thank God for email and the cellphone,” Barron said in referring to the tools that allowed Batch 1970 to mobilize and stay in touch with one another in the Philippines and the United States while organizing the medical mission.
|The late Sixto Esquivias III lends moral support to his classmates|
In October 2008, Batch 1970 launched its first medical mission in Payatas, Quezon City, site of the infamous mountain range of garbage. Besides the inner joy of helping the poor, the Thomasians remember Payatas for an intense stench that permeated everything.
Despite the noxious odor, Batch 1970 has held a medical mission every year at Payatas since 2008. This first medical, dental and pediatric mission helped over 800 beneficiaries.
Payatas also set the pattern for succeeding medical missions. At the forefront diagnosing patients are medical doctors and dentists from Batch 1970 including Dr. Barron, Dr. Ralph Correano, Dr. Titus de la Fuente and Dr. Perlie Battung-Pacia.
Assisting them are their children who are also doctors; doctors who are the children of other kabatchies ; spouses who are also doctors and volunteer doctors. At the medical mission sites, kabatchies take charge of administration, security, administer medical tests and dispense prescribed medicine. Kabatchies in the USA sent either financial or material support.
|Dentists at the Roxas District medical mission|
“We had a great response to our first mission in Payatas,” Dr. Barron noted. “We succeeded because of the all-out support from the batch.”
That the medical missions are now in their fifth year is a tribute to the unshaken enthusiasm among the medical missionaries, said Dr. Barron.
“Their commitment to the medical missions and their unselfishness remain strong. Some want to share their blessings with others. Some want to do humanitarian work,” he pointed out.
What the group saw as a one-off, free medical and dental mission has since blossomed into an open-ended commitment to serve as long as possible. Payatas was followed by San Rafael, Bulacan and Silang, Cavite.
|Post medical mission meeting at Binangonan|
The missions have also tended to the medical needs of the poor and unfortunate in Paltok, Bulacan and Montalban, Rizal. Batch 1970 held four medical missions each in 2010 and 2011 and six in 2012. The missions will continue into 2013 and beyond.
“We plan to continue it until we can,” said Castillo. “Probably until we die. It’s our group’s legacy.”
|USTHS 70 banner|