The United Catanduanes San Diego (UCSD) and Friends is a nonprofit charitable group based in San Diego with partners, members, and avid supporters from different parts of the USA and the Philippines. Founded by Virac-born Dr. Oscar Enriquez, UCSD organizes and conducts medical and humanitarian missions to benefit remote areas of Catanduanes. Dr. Enriquez is an internal medicine specialist in the USA and owner of Standard Medical Clinic in Port Arthur, Texas. Aside from his great strides at UCSD, the benevolent doctor also unfailingly donates to other projects that reach out to the needy in Cagayan de Oro City and Bukidnon.
For its outreach program in Catanduanes, which is traditionally held in the love month of February, the group has appended “Gift of Love” to its mission title. I had the chance to volunteer in this year’s program and although I was not able to participate in all its activities, yet on those days that I did during the week-long run from February 13 to 17, I realized that the organizers couldn’t have chosen a better tag line.
Here’s sharing how I see UCSD expressing love in the context of charity, compassion, and sharing one’s blessings with the less fortunate.
Love is contagious
Through the years, UCSD has widened its influence to include not only the family members, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Enriquez, but also his American patients. With his compelling charm, Dr. Enriquez does not have to try hard to win support from others. The group enjoys the backing of generous sponsors including Dr. Murlidhar Amin, a cardiologist from Texas; Bob Spencer and The Rotary Club of Greater Chino Hills; Waraynon Initiative Network; and friends from all over the USA. In Catanduanes, it has strong partnerships with the Diocese of Virac, medical professional groups, local government units, and the youth sector.
Other members are just as dedicated and committed, and with the circle of friends expanding, the act of contributing to a worthy cause does not need a hard sell. Love grows and glows. UCSD has got it made.
Love is persevering
UCSD medical missions operate on a three-year cycle, with the first two years dedicated to fundraising, procuring medicines, medical supplies, various essentials, and sending those goods in batches to the Philippines. The storage, sorting, packing, and related logistics including overall planning and transportation services are handled by facilitators in Catanduanes. Religious groups and local health units are instrumental in qualifying needy recipients and preparation of venues. Even before the actual start of the mission on the third year, arduous work, coordination, and mobilization had been at play in pursuing its objectives.
Love transcends all barriers
Catanduanes is composed of 11 municipalities, with the farthest point up north entailing more than two hours drive from the provincial capital Virac. Similar missions in the past were conducted solely in the capital town. During the onset of the pandemic three years ago, UCSD had to resort to a different strategy to reach out to all the municipalities, leaving no one behind. The same operational plan was followed this year, with teams starting out early morning to their designated activity centers. The rainy weather at this time of year on this island facing the Pacific Ocean posed some challenges on the road and on mission sites, but these did not dampen the enthusiasm of the dedicated team workers.
Love knows no age
I am no spring chicken and at times I had doubts if I could sustain the energy to go about the required tasks during the long hours. Seeing 83-year-old Tio Miniong (Herminio) Enriquez, a retired accountant, ably assisting at the Optical Services section, promptly eased my apprehensions. Nonagenarian Tio Guimoy (Guillermo) Lizaso and his wife Nelly, still sprightly despite the years, flew in from California to do their part for the mission; they are generous donors and constant supporters of UCSD. My takeaway: When the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, think love. It works like an elixir.
Love is never perfect
Despite earnest planning and preparation, some glitches are inevitable. In one such case, one team ran short of medicines and other supplies. The closest team had to travel to the affected site for the required reinforcement. In another case, one group just got swamped with more help seekers than they could handle. The opposite scenario of having too few cases to attend to at one barangay, called for a regrouping of manpower. All these served as lessons to be considered in future missions.
Love is a commitment
The mission ended last February 17 and many of the Gift of Love advocates have flown back to the USA. Their local counterparts have sprung back from that gruelling week. Overall, around 4,000 Catandunganon residents of 60 barangays in all 11 towns benefited from the mission. The health concerns of many women and children were given due attention. Thousands of residents received free consultations and prescribed medications, dental services, food packs, hygiene kits and reading glasses, among others. The same services were extended to some Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) at the Virac District Jail.
But for this group, the end of one mission marks the start of the next one. The reboot is on. Soon, UCSD will be spearheading new awareness and fundraising initiatives through its various partnerships.
And the love cycle continues.