I settled at the back of the Toyota pickup, crouching on the floor. I reached inside the bag and wore my shades and sahal, ready for the long trip ahead. Definitely, this was not one of the top ten things I wanted to do before growing old. But I was going anyway. And I came quite prepared. I had plenty of water, and an umbrella besides. I was joining a medical mission hosted by the Southern Mindanao District of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP.)
The mission consisted of around twenty volunteers, including five doctors. I was one of three from the youth sector of the church. It was 8am, and cold, the sun hidden behind the rain clouds. We were going to a far-flung barangay at the foothills of Mt. Apo in Matan-ao, Davao del Sur.
It was a comfortable ride at first as the vehicle sped along the smooth highway. But when the pickup took a left at the fork, the terrain started to change. Each kilometer proved bumpier than the previous stretch of road.
We were now entering a secluded place. I noticed the locals took a longer look at us as the pickup passed by them. But what simply amazed me was the sight of farmers suddenly rising simultaneously from the fields to check what the matter was when our Toyota skidded along the hill.
When we reached the basketball court, there was already a big crowd, and a voice boomed to welcome us to the barangay. More than a hundred people were standing in the damp court, a slight drizzle having started. No umbrellas, no towels. They came as themselves, waiting for whatever we had in store for them. I caught a faint smile in the minister’s face.
I was assigned to the dental area inside the barangay health center. Just great – imagine the sight of a hundred oral cavities, blood, and needles, and sighs of aahs and oohs. Was I glad I didn’t choose dentistry as my profession.
I functioned quite well as the receptionist, calling out what I thought were funny names — Epifania, Ambrosia, Norberto… Sometimes, people would rush me, only to find that they hadn’t completed their vital signs check yet. I had to remind myself that I was dealing with people who had no access to proper health care, and so they were excited to get their aching tooth out.
I had always loved a hospital atmosphere, to see busy doctors and their patients. But this mission just overwhelmed me. Some people were shoving me to get to the doctor. They jampacked the room, crowding around the doctor, curious to see how a decayed tooth is pulled out.
It was really hard for the doctor; the room was dimly lit, and people were blocking the sunlight coming from the front door. And I had to deal with some people who became angry because their names were not on the list. I just had to keep cool, reminding myself of the promise I had made before the trip: grimace and pout, but not whine.
We successfully serviced sixty-seven dental patients. Even if I suffered some distress from the gory dental scenes, I was thankful I wasn’t assigned in the tuli (circumcision) section. Rounding out the mission was the distribution of relief goods, and a lot of people received rice and canned goods.
The mission ended at three in the afternoon. I settled at the back of the Toyota pickup, crouching on the floor. I reached inside the bag and wore my shades and sahal, ready for the long trip back home. I might need a lot of water again. And complete satisfaction! The rain began to pour in earnest. Up went the umbrella over my head and the heads of the other young volunteers. I felt like a boy scout, having anticipated the weather.
I was afraid of getting sick, of course, but what the heck. Off with the umbrella. Getting wet was fun.
Definitely, this was one of the top ten things I should do every year.
Mark Darryl A. Caniban is a fourth year AB Psychology student of the Ateneo de Davao University.