Catanduanes: Raising its happiness index via abaca farming

The tourism tag ‘Happy Island’ suits the province of Catanduanes to a T. It is blessed with unspoiled beaches, rolling terrain, and many idyllic spots that continue to attract foreign and domestic visitors. Its latest tourism figures showed an increase of 11.31% from 2016 to 2017 driven by visitors seeking new travel experiences.

Catanduanes also takes pride in being the country’s top producer of abaca. The Bicol region contributes about 40% of the roughly $130.3 million annual abaca exports to major global markets. At least 90% of the regional share comes from the rich soils of The Happy Island.

Abaca has been traditionally turned into twine, cordage, textiles, and handicrafts. Its more modern applications now include manufacturing various items such as automotive parts, paper and currency notes, and many fashion and lifestyle products.

The quest for organic and eco-friendly raw materials has further contributed to the preference for abaca over synthetic materials. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) has recently developed a technology that combines abaca and resin to form a composite that is lightweight, cheap, and corrosion-resistant. ITDI used this technology to form the roof and sidecar of a motorized tricycle to demonstrate the unique qualities of the composite.

The global demand and prospects are obviously huge; but the challenges faced by abaca industry players in meeting this demand are equally daunting. There has to be massive expansion and rehabilitation of abaca farms throughout the country. The aging population of abaca farmers needs to be addressed by encouraging the younger generations and convincing them that farming can be profitable. Economic losses have been reported owing to low productivity and deteriorating fiber quality resulting from viral-borne plant diseases. Thus, new methods are needed to improve not only the yield but also the quality of the fiber.

banner.jpgDuring the recently held Abaca Festival in Virac, Catanduanes, local farmers had a chance to convene with Catanduanes Governor Joseph Cua and Mr. Kennedy Costales, Executive Director of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), for vital updates affecting their trade. In this gathering, 107 farmers from the 11 municipalities of the province were awarded cash incentives to help rebuild abaca farms that were devastated by Typhoon Nina in 2016. The awarding was part of the PhP50-million ‘Cash for Work’ program set by the Department of Agriculture aimed to gov cuabenefit around 15,000 Catandunganon farmers.

For his part, Governor Cua assured the farmers of government support in propping up abaca planting in Catanduanes while reminding them of the need to improve the quality of their produce. Noting the loss of interest in farming among millennials, he said that initiatives are being taken to make farming easier, requiring less brawn activity, but with the potential for workers to rake in decent income.

ceremonial awarding

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Ceremonial awarding of cash incentives

 

Representing PhilFIDA, the attached agency of the Department of Agriculture tasked with developing and sustaining the fiber industry in the country, Executive Director Kennedy Costales cited the latest initiatives to double, even triple, the country’s abaca output in the following years. As stated on its official website, PhilFIDA “pursues a range of programs particularly for the development of disease-resistant and high-yielding planting materials, sustainable disease management program, improved fiber extraction machines and the acquisition of sustainability certification for the production of high-quality abaca fibers.”

Director Costales reiterated PhilFIDA’s vision to mechanize abaca production in Catanduanes and the rest of the country. Additionally, in the next few years, abaca farmers in the province will be organized into cooperatives to be run corporate-style by professional management teams.

This is the core of the Abaca Tuxy Buying Special Project (ATBSP), a new trading system meant to eliminate the traditional “all-in” buying scheme where unorganized farmers sell their produce in an individual and fragmented manner. The farmers are at the losing end of this arrangement, as the grades and standards of abaca are applied only at the level of the Grading and Baling Establishments (GBE), who get the premium for high-quality fibers. The farmers are thus constrained from improving the yield and quality of their products.

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Given the same grade of abaca, the machine-stripped fiber tends to be whiter, finer, and more lustrous than the hand-stripped fiber

The ATBSP aims to improve the marketing arrangement by clustering farmers into cooperatives with 50 to 100 members each. The project takes half the burden off the farmers’ back by simplifying abaca processing from the traditional 12 steps down to 6, allowing farmers to focus on the quality of the fiber. They will be trained in all aspects of production, including warehousing and fiber trading, grading and classification of fibers that meet market standards.  “This shifts their mindsets from being mere farmers to being entrepreneurs,” says Dir. Costales. The cooperatives will handle the rest of the steps, including stripping the fibers using spindle-stripping machines, drying, classifying, bundling, and selling the fibers in bulk directly to GBEs and local processors.

The farmers present were then shown how a  spindle stripping machine works. Compared to hand-stripped abaca fibers, which are coarse and priced at PhP55.00 per kilo, fiber produced mechanically are of higher quality and can be bought at PhP110.00 per kilo on average.

 

A ceremonial turnover of heavy equipment (a 6-wheeler and a 10-wheeler), a forklift, weighing scales, among others, to the Pinoy Lingap-Damayan Credit Cooperative (PLDC) capped the day’s event. These were funded by the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Earlier this year, Congressman Cesar V. Sarmiento, Representative of the lone district of Catanduanes, filed House Bill No. 7369, declaring the province as the Abaca Capital of the Philippines. The Bill seeks to promote and support the abaca industry in the province, while safeguarding it from destruction caused by plant diseases and calamitous events.

The Bill also stipulates the creation of an Abaca Research and Development Center attached to the Catanduanes State University – College of Agriculture and Fisheries. The Center shall conduct researches and studies on the development, production, management, and marketing of abaca fiber; provide technical assistance and support to abaca farmers; and develop technologies beneficial to the abaca industry.

Favorable events are coming together for the benefit of the soil tillers and the parahagot (abaca strippers) of Catanduanes. It’s about time they got their share of good cheer on The Happy Island.

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Auspicious Luck Woven in Cashmere

Take the versatility of the cashmere fiber on one hand and the luck-enhancing properties of feng shui on the other. Bring them together and you will have creations that are highly stylish, luxurious, and delightfully auspicious.

MH invitation

This is exactly what happened when international feng shui master Marites Allen met Jyotika Jhalani, the Founder of Janavi India.

Marites is the CEO and founder of Frigga Charmed Life, a London-based line of auspicious fashion wear and accessories that currently ships to many Asian countries and the rest of the world. She is the first and only Filipina certified “Master in Feng Shui” by the prestigious International Feng Shui Association and is the go-to consultant of many well-known entertainment, political, and business figures in the country.

Hailing from Kashmir, Jyotika started Janavi as an ode to Handmade in India.  It has evolved into the brand known today for its unique use of embroidery and beadwork embellishments on cashmere. Janavi has worked with  top international brands like Chanel, Dior, Ferragamo – designing and manufacturing the best embroidered cashmere stoles and shawls.  Today, brand Janavi India retails in over 200 luxury stores worldwide.

Finding a common ground in their life-works, Marites and Jyotika soon became partners in producing an upscale shawl collection under the brand “JANAVI INDIA X MARITES ALLEN.”

Under the joint venture, Marites provides the symbols and designs grounded on feng shui principles and interpretations.   Janavi then uses these inspirations to come up with  finely crafted and embellished shawls.

The initial collection was officially launched at Manila House Private Members Club, Bonifacio Global City on May 22, 2018.

Marites and Jyotika: Two Great Energies Coming Together

with tessa and other guests

Invited guests composed of avid feng shui followers, Manila House members, and media representatives got to view the first original designs, which include cashmere shawls representing the nine lucky symbols – each one related to the auspicious configuration of stars in 2018.

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There is a specific set dedicated to the symbols of Chinese zodiac allies and friends. This grouping of three zodiac signs is believed to bring good luck to each member of the affiliated group.  The following photo is for the Influencers group of Rat, Dragon, and Monkey. There are also available creations for the Horse, Dog, and Tiger (The Individualists); Rabbit, Sheep, and Boar (The Noble Masters ); Ox, Snake, and Rooster (The Visionaries).

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“GLORIOUS PHOENIX”
Of steemed importance in Chinese astrology is the Celestial Phoenix considered to be very effective in attracting fame, power, money luck and fulfilling wishesIts symbolic rise from the ashes makes it very auspicious in inviting new opportunities and increasing good reputation. It is also used as a love enhancer and is believed to benefit females most effectively.

Video Credits: Ms. Marites Allen

 

The 26-piece collection may be viewed and purchased at the Manila House until June 2, 2018.

Marites may also be consulted for customized shawls based on the personalized feng shui reading for a specific individual. The resulting creation will feature symbols or icons of elements favorable to that person.

Succeeding designs will be available online and at all Janavi shops overseas and Frigga boutiques in the Philippines.

 

 

 

Bench Fashion Week 2018 – Day 3

Change is coming, no ifs and buts about it. In the local fashion world at least, it bodes of exciting and vibrant possibilities for Spring and Summer of 2018.  This was crystal clear on the last day of Bench Fashion Week (BFW) 2018 last Sunday, March 11 at The Playground of Bench Tower in BGC.

Here’s how BFW presented the different looks as conceived by three known fashion authorities.

Assembly_Philippines, a multibrand store concept located at the Rockwell Powerplant Mall, SM Aura Premier, the Podium Mall, and at the S Maison Mall at the Conrad Hotel, suggests  these structured, yet sleek, lines.

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Instagram photo by benchtm

 

Designer Joey Samson goes bold by combining menswear materials with perky details resulting in richly layered, mostly androgynous creations.

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Instagram photo by benchtm

 

The most-awaited collection was understandably that of Bench, which is well-known for its fashionably trendy designs. The pieces are summer-perfect, with colorful and breezy materials that allow youthful spunk to come through.

Spot Miss World 2013 Megan Young and Bench princess Juliana Gomez in this video.

(All collections are available at the 3F of the BENCH/ Flagship store until March 25, 2018)

– oOo –

I cannot end this post without putting in a few lines for one of the newest Bench fashion influencers – Nikki Allen, who had her runway debut last Sunday. I first met her when she was just a frisky three year old. Walking the ramp is the latest addition to her long list of interests, and she only recently turned 15!

She plays the sax, violin, guitar, and the uke.  At the British International School, she is a consistent straight A student excelling in academics while finding time to be with the choir, band, cheerleading, and debating team.  If she so chooses, she can be an excellent writer, too.

At home in the kitchen, she can bake yummy goodies and earn good money from them. If need be, she can pinch hit as her mom’s make-up artist. Equally in her element outdoors,  she got her diving certificate from PADI two years ago. Earlier, while the Allen family was setting up base in the UK, Nikki was actively involved in stage plays at the Oxford Theater. Her mom shares that she aced her voice examinations from the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music and at 12, she had a chance to be with a group that sang before Princess Anne.

One question I dare not ask this young lady is what she wants to pursue after school, because the options are longer on the things she CAN do, than on those she cannot.

 

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Nikki Allen at BFW S/S 2018 (photo source: benchtm)

 

Congratulations on your latest achievement, dear Nikki! Take a bow, too, Marites and Nick Allen for the great job of nurturing such a multi-talented gem of a daughter. Of course, sibs Shannen, Kevin, and Kirck complete the awesome Team Allen!

Please click here to watch Nikki and the rest of the young Bench talents. The video is from the Facebook page of her proud mom, feng shui maven Marites Allen!

 

Bangon Marawi Store, DTI Makati

tarpaulinThe Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has recently launched the Bangon Marawi Store at the Ground Floor of the DTI Building along Gil Puyat Ave., Makati City.

This initiative is the Department’s way of contributing to the recovery and reconstruction of Marawi City following the damage to infrastructure and private properties due to clashes in the area.

The Bangon Marawi Store features Maranao products such as brassware, wooden furniture, wearables,  woven products, jewelry, fashion accessories, and native delicacies.

Maranao entrepreneurs are among the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Marawi and this initiative is one way of helping these traders showcase their products and culture.

Some of the products on sale at the store:

marawi shirts

bangon mugsshawlbrassware1brasswarejewelry3

fruit of the loom

jewelry2

jewelry1

palapa

Palapa is a condiment made of caramelized scallions, ginger, chilis, and toasted coconut. Real hot by itself, but great with bagoong!

 

tinagtag

Lukot lukot or tinagtag is a traditional Maranao snack that looks like toasted pancit, but is actually a form of rice crispies.

In the video, Canadian Kyle Jennermann (aka Kulas) shows how the delicacy is prepared.

 

At the Bangon Marawi store, it sells for less than PhP100 per pack. Check out the many interesting products on sale. The store runs until December 30.

Go, buy!

 

25 Years of Ibalong Festival

(This article written in September 2016 is in the April 2017 issue of Travel Plus magazine)

ibalong festival

National Heroes Day has a special meaning for the people of Legazpi City in Albay.  Around this day they relive the story of the three legendary heroes of Bicol, which was once known as Ibalong.

The Ibalong Festival, as conceptualized in 1992 by then Legazpi City Mayor Imelda Roces, was meant to break away from the usual themes of local festivals. Festivals in the Philippines are generally religious in nature, stemming from the centuries-long Spanish Christianization of the archipelago. Others are agriculture-inspired to celebrate bountiful harvests, while others are historical, as a throwback to important events in a town.

The Ibalong Festival was created to revive Ibalong, a 60-stanza epic poem transcribed by a Franciscan friar from tales sung by a bard named Kadunung.  The original Spanish text could no longer be found, but portions of it were said to have been copied by Fray Jose Castaño and were later compiled by Wenceslao Retana who included them in the book Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino in 1895. The untitled and unfinished manuscript got its title Ibalong from the renowned propagandist and essayist Jose Ma. Panganiban.

The legend has it that a long time ago, a brave man named Baltog came upon a rich land called Ibalong. Back then, monsters lived in the dark forests, but Baltog chose to stay and cultivate the fields. The giant wild boar Tandayag saw the fields and destroyed the crops with its long fangs. In retaliation, Baltog patiently looked for the boar and broke its monstrous jawbones, killing it in combat.

The epic hero Baltog and the boar monster Tandayag in mortal combat

The epic hero Baltog and the boar monster Tandayag in mortal combat

Years later, another fearless warrior named Handyong came to Ibalong. Handyong and his men fought several menacing creatures including a three-headed monster and giant flying sharks. The toughest of them all was a she-serpent named Oriol. Endowed with a beautiful voice and the ability to change her appearance, Oriol was a difficult prey. In the end, she was captivated by Handyong’s bravery and chose to help him conquer the other monsters. Thus, peace came to Ibalong.

Tribesmen go down on their knees in the presence of a winged monster

Tribesmen go down on their knees in the presence of a winged monster

Under the leadership of Handyong, Ibalong saw a golden era where slaves and masters were treated equally. It was also a period of important inventions of tools used in farming, weaving, and writing.

But then a big flood, strong earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions hit Ibalong. A new monster, named Rabot, who had the power to turn his foes into rocks also appeared. Conquering this beast fell on the hands of Bantong, a friend of Handyong. Knowing that Rabot slept during the day and roamed about at night, he waited until the monster was sound asleep. At the right moment, he killed the beast with his sharp bolo.

With Rabot’s death, Ibalong regained peace and became the prosperous land it is now.

The tribesmen celebrate after their hero triumphs over their enemy

The tribesmen celebrate after their hero triumphs over their enemy

Ibalong Festival goes silver

On its 25th staging this year, the month-long festival culminated in a street parade and dance competition that attracted 11 schools from Albay, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur. Only six schools, however, competed for the championship in this year’s streetdancing presentations. After regaling the spectators with its interpretation of the epic tale, Tiwi Central School was judged Grand Champion and went home with the cash prize of PhP300,000 plus trophy. Cash prizes were also awarded to the Best Epic Hero, Best in Costume and Props, Best in Dancing, and Best in Music and Sound.

Keeping in step with the Ibalong music

Keeping in step with the Ibalong music

A tribal muse clad in costume made of native materials

A tribal muse clad in costume made of native materials

High energy levels and bursts of colors marked each presentation

High energy levels and bursts of colors marked each presentation

Pretty maidens in whimsical costumes

Pretty maidens in whimsical costumes

A showdown of heroes. Competition for the best epic character

A showdown of heroes: Competition for the best epic character

Bicolandia: The myth versus reality

Reliving a legend that is more mythical than historical may seem incongruous for a bustling capital that brands itself as The City of Fun and Adventure. As the largest city in the Bicol region, Legazpi City blends modernity with old town charm, which is a rarity these days. Swanky malls stand close to each other in the central business district. Several colleges and universities here give the city that exuberant air. One gets that breezy feeling, too, while navigating the long stretch of Legazpi Boulevard with its numerous restos and many other fun places.

Yet, one does not have to go very far from the city to enjoy nature at its best. Those seeking adventure will find its many forms here. Sea, sand, hills, lakes, and caves. Forests and falls, too. And of course, anywhere you are in Albay, the majestic Mount Mayon is an awe-inspiring presence.

In a place and time where technology is both a major pursuit and conveyance, storytelling and folklore may be regarded as dying, if not lost arts. Despite this scenario, the epic story of Ibalong lives on, not only through characters in whimsical costumes and pulse-raising music, but more importantly through the hardy character of a people that have had to face storms, earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions in recent times—and still have managed to be their own heroes. Legazpi City is officially recognized as one of the three most livable cities in the Philippines, where everyone is safe from both natural and man-made calamities.

That is a feat that would have made Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong very proud.

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CIA: “We Care about Catanduanes”

(An edited version of this article is in the March 13th issue of The Philippine Star (Good News section, page B9)

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First off, this is not about intelligence work and covert activities done in the interest of US national security.

CIA, Inc. is the Catanduanes International Association, a non-profit organization composed of former or current residents of an island province in the Bicol region, along with their relatives and friends. This umbrella organization encompasses different chapters all over the USA and Canada, each of which undertakes projects that benefit kababayans back home. CIA has adopted for its main project the conduct of medical missions once every three years to render free health services and relief distribution to underprivileged Catandunganons.

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The CIA banner hanging on storm-battered trees: “like a rainbow after the rain.”

The avowed objective to help medically deprived province mates traces its roots to a moving scene many years back on the island. Dr. Virgilia Guerrero was then practicing her profession in a rural area in Catanduanes and among her first patients were a mother and child. After consultation, the mother sheepishly admitted that she had no money to pay for her services. Instead she handed the doctor some eggs and bananas as token payments.

The encounter left such an impression on Dr. Guerrero and her husband, Engr. Jose Guerrero. The memory refused to go away and even went with them when they migrated to the US.

In Chicago where the Guerrero couple settled, Engr. Guerrero dreamed of having one organization that would bring together fellow Catandunganons on a bigger scale than the ones already existing in the ‘80s, and which have already adopted their own programs. The Catanduanes Association of America Illinois Chapter was launched in 1989, a bold first step towards the consolidation that was his end objective.

After years of networking — appealing to and convincing other groups on the merits of going international, which was no mean feat given the hectic pace in the US – Engr. Guerrero saw his dream scenario. CIA, Inc. was formally launched during the first grand reunion of Catandunganons held at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Illinois, with Engr. Guerrero himself as its first president.

Lydia T. Mendez, CIA Chairman of the Board, recalls that the first medical mission in Catanduanes in 1993 had only eight members. Compared to the more than 200-strong contingent of medical practitioners and volunteers that came this year, it speaks not only of the dynamic growth of the association but also of its unquestionable impact on both the organizers and the beneficiaries of its programs.

The 9th Medical and Humanitarian Outreach Mission held recently in Catanduanes clearly shows that, indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To raise funds for the project, the charter member organizations put in their share, monetary or otherwise, to purchase the required medical supplies and equipment. An online fundraising campaign started by CIA Treasurer Franklin Enriquez underscored the need for more support in light of the devastation caused by super typhoon Nina on the island.

Much earlier, current CIA President Dr. Oscar Enriquez had been networking with family and friends and traveling all over the US to solicit financial assistance. One important family occasion, the 90th birthday of his mother, doubled as a fundraising event, with guests encouraged to support the mission in lieu of birthday gifts. Dr. Enriquez also parlayed his professional influence into purchasing tons of medicines and necessary supplies at great savings.

Dolly Dalusong, Chair and Overall Coordinator of this year’s medical mission took the same route. She organized and attended numerous social/fundraising events to touch base with fellow Catandunganons and channeled every possible group she is affiliated with – personal, professional, civic, academic, religious – to raise the wherewithal. All for the mission.

In what appears to be a case of good intentions attracting similar interests, CIA learned about the efforts of Global Caring Foundation (GCF), an Arizona-based philanthropic group, to fulfill the needs of underserved populations and healthcare providers from around the world. An earlier plan of the GCF to conduct a mission in another Asian country fell through but opened up an opportunity for a link-up with CIA. After a series of talks between officials from both sides facilitated by Catandunganon nurses Tess Baylon and Wendy Tee, a collaboration was worked out and the foreign delegation grew even bigger with over 30 volunteers from GCF.

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Some of the 200+ CIA volunteers who participated in the mission

Last February 6 to 10, CIA and GCF, along with their local counterparts from the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC) led by Hospital Chief Dr. Vietrez Abella, ministered to the needs of hundreds of beneficiaries coming from different municipalities. Volunteers assigned in the triage area went to work even before their appointed time as patients from remote towns had to travel as early as 3:00 am to reach the EBMC grounds. Depending on their health needs, the patients were referred to different sections, including dental, ophthalmology/optometry, lab screening, pediatrics, pharmacy, minor surgery, among others.

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Early birds waiting to be listed on the first day of the mission.

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At the triage area

Just as busy were volunteers assigned to the areas designated for the distribution of clothing, rice, canned goods, toys, school supplies, shoes and slippers, and eyeglasses. Drawing and coloring activities kept the children occupied; that is, if they were not lining up for either ice cream or hot meals. In the Soup Kitchen, they were reminded to practice proper hygiene by washing their hands before eating, and to say thank you after receiving their soup bowls.

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A scene at the soup kitchen

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At the relief goods distribution area

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Someone is happy with his new toy

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Ice cream treat from a volunteer

Each day started with a mass and ended with a critique meeting. Meals and snacks for the medical team and volunteers were sponsored by kind-hearted supporters from the local government and the private sector. Governor Joseph Cua, ARDCI, Virac Mayor Sammy Leynes, Congressman Cesar Sarmiento, and Mrs. Concepcion Co hosted dinners for the mission participants.

In recognition of the artistry of the Catandunganons, CIA, with the help of local culture advocates organized “Catanduanes Got Talent” on Day 3. Contestants were pitted against each other in a showdown that demonstrated their singing, dancing, and other innate or honed talents, for attractive prizes, of course. The mission was refreshingly not just for the sick and impaired.

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Volunteer doctors at work…

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… and having fun on the dance floor during the dinner hosted by Gov. Joseph Cua

During the Governor’s Night Dinner, Vice Governor Shirley Abundo likened the 9th Medical Mission to a “rainbow after the rain,” while Governor Joseph Cua considered it a “celebration of kindness and generosity.” In response, CIA President Oscar Enriquez quoted Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta): “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”

In the pediatrics section where this writer pitched in as interpreter for the American doctors who could not understand Filipino or the local dialect, and for the patients who could not speak English, I witnessed this spirit of caring and empathy up close. Jamelah Tucker, a pediatrician from Florida tended to her young, sometimes agitated patients with utmost grace and compassion. She also shared this insight: “We spent so much time learning what we need to know about child care, so sharing our knowledge is not a bother at all. We will be there wherever children need help.”

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The pediatrics section had the longest lines each day

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Dr. Jamelah Tucker, a volunteer pediatrician

From what I’ve seen, it wasn’t a one-way street. I stood speechless at the sight of a young girl, about three years old, who came running with outstretched arms in the direction of a teen-aged American volunteer. As they embraced each other tightly, the smiles on their faces told a tacit tale of two sisters from different mothers connected by the spiritual act of giving and receiving – with both of them deeply enriched by the connection made possible by one humanitarian endeavor.

Dr. Oscar Enriquez, (center)  receiving the approved Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution commending the officers, members, and volunteers of CIA, Inc. for conducting its 9th Medical Mission in Catanduanes.jpg

Dr. Oscar Enriquez (center) receiving the approved Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolution commending the officers, members, and volunteers of CIA for holding the 9th medical and humanitarian mission in Catanduanes. (Photo by PIA Catanduanes)

Please click here to view more photos of the 9th CIA medical and humanitarian outreach mission.

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