Central Phillipines was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan on 8th November 2013. In the aftermath of the disaster, Tzu Chi launched a work relief prorgramme in hardest hit Tacloban City, with the aim of helping the local residents recover from the disaster.
Five years later, medical volunteers from TIMA (Tzu Chi International Medical Association) returned to Tacloban to celebrate the successful restoration of the city and to continue the acts of love and kindness by relieving the suffering of the sick and needy locals.
Thanks for not giving up on Tacloban
The streets of Tacloban at night were thriving with life, and this was a stark contrast to the scenes of ruins after Typhoon Haiyan struck the city five years ago. Upon invitation by Tzu Chi Phillipines, 466 medical volunteers from the TIMA chapters in Singapore*, Malaysia, Taiwan and Manila gathered at Tacloban for a 3-day free clinic. The clinic was held from 26th to 28th October 2018, at Leyte Progressive High School, a local high school, and aimed to provide free healthcare services for the impoverished local residents.
Despite the hot and humid weather, the residents waited patiently for their turn to see a doctor. Everyone listened attentively as a Tzu Chi volunteer explained the process of seeking treatment at the free clinic.
An elderly female patient told the volunteers that she lost many of her family members and all her belongings when Typhoon Haiyan struck. Fortunately, Tzu Chi carried out the work relief programmme which helped the affected residents sail through the difficult times and ease their sorrows. Their lives have improved over the past five years, and she was grateful that Tzu Chi volunteers still visited every year to conduct free clinics for the needy. These free clinics are crucial in safeguarding the residents’ health, and she hoped that Tzu Chi could stay for good in Tacloban.
Alfredo Li, a veteran volunteer in Tzu Chi Philippines, said that many of the locals live in poverty and have inadequate medical and social welfare, thus Tzu Chi has held more than 236 large scale free clinics in the Philippines over the past five years. Yang Guo Ying, the CEO of Tzu Chi Philippines, expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the multinational TIMA team. He also stressed that volunteers in the country have been actively working to help the locals gain livelihood and settle down in homes, as well as provide emotional support to ease their minds.
*Note: In the spirit of “Great Love Without Borders”, the medical volunteers from Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore) utilised their personal leave from work and participated in this humanitarian mission at their own expense.
Medical assistance from overseas
A wide variety of medical services were available in this round of free clinic, and they included internal medicine, pediatrics, dentistry, ophthalmology, surgery and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
"I’ve travelled many miles to come here and see you!" said TIMA’s Dr. Su Wen Lin to an 81-year-old lady who was suffering from chest pain.
Dr. Su is the head of the Intensive Care Unit at Taiwan’s Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital. He overheard a volunteer say that the old lady just had her birthday the day before, and he gave her some bread to wish her a happy birthday.
The old lady was moved to tears by Dr. Su’s kind gesture and said happily, “You came all the way from Taiwan to treat me and even gave me a birthday present. It makes me so happy and I’m very thankful!”
Dr. Chen Li Xiu, who specialises in thoracic medicine at Taiwan’s Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital, discovered that several elderly patients at the free clinic had high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Many of the local folks hardly pay attention to their blood pressure and blood sugar levels as it is already not easy for them to have well-balanced meals every day. Thus, Dr. Chen patiently taught the elderly patients how to look after their health by sharing some health and hygiene tips that they could practise in daily life.
Repaying kindness with service
Irvin is a local Tzu Chi volunteer who was in charge of transporting volunteers at the free clinic. 35-year-old Irvin suffered a congenital birth defect in his left hand. His thumb and index finger were fused together while the other three fingers were folded and very short. Although the condition did not affect the growth of his body, his left hand was not able to function normally.
Five years ago, Irvin’s house was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, and he was one of the disaster victims assisted by Tzu Chi. He subsequently left Tacloban and returned two years later to earn a living in the city. He became a driver for a local hotel six months ago and started participating in Tzu Chi activities after getting connected with the NGO through his superior, who is a Tzu Chi volunteer.
Irvin had wanted to seek treatment for his left hand since young but could not afford the expensive surgery. During this free clinic, Irvin seized the opportunity to consult the head of TIMA Singapore, Dr. Fong Poh Him, who is a renown plastic surgeon. After examining Irvin’s left hand, Dr. Fong performed a surgery by cutting in between his left thumb and index finger to improve the grip of his hand.
A skin graft from his arm was required due to the damaged skin in between his two fingers. The complex surgery lasted for more than an hour, and during the procedure, Irvin received emotional support from the nurses in the operation theatre.
Having his wish of many years finally fulfiled, Irvin smiled happily and expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the volunteer doctors and nurses.
After undergoing the surgery, Irvin rested for only a short while before resuming his work of driving the volunteers in and out of the free clinic. He hoped to show his appreciation to the volunteers by contributing his efforts, and his courageous effort gained the admiration of many!