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Medical mission
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no pleasure cruise

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placeholder December 15, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Medical mission to Philippines no pleasure cruise

At Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, they're packing for the medical mission to the Philippines — and there's room for you.


Holy Rosary International
Medical Mission

to Iloilo and Nueva Valencia, Philippines
Jan. 10-20; 20-28, 2015
(Volunteers can work one or both weeks)

Donations are welcome: Holy Rosary International Medical Mission, c/o Holy Rosary Church 1313 A St., Antioch, CA 94509

Rules of the road

• Volunteers pay for their own airfare (about $1,200) and room and board (about $30 a day)

• Living conditions can be difficult (buckets and ladles for showers, unusual or unidentifiable food, very poor "bathroom" facilities at work sites)

• Working conditions can be difficult and chaotic

• Safety, safety, safety: no raw fruits or vegetables, no water from the tap, closed-toe shoes when you work, always travel in pairs

• Purchase travel insurance with evacuation coverage (no one has needed to use it yet)

In order to provide clinic-level care, vision care, dental care, ultrasound, medical testing and pharmacy, the parish-based international medical mission will include four or five medical doctors, two dentists, four or five registered nurses, a pharmacist, three non-medical personnel, an experienced ultrasound technician, two opticians/ophthalmologists through Help the World See, a priest, a pair of coordinators and two outreach workers from the University of the Philippines.

This is the fifth trip to the Philippines for Holy Rosary International Medical Mission, which received its nonprofit status in 2007 and has conducted medical missions to Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico and Peru.

This is no pleasure cruise: It will be two weeks of hard work serving as many patients as possible, while providing the best possible care in austere settings, organizers say.

Three important words come to mind for Dr. Pacita Aducayen, who serves as medical director, after the group's last trip to the Philippines: "humility, servitude and gratitude."

"God is good in giving us enough strength and courage to serve hundreds of needy patients who just experienced a major devastation in their lives," she said. "Our only dilemma was providing care to sicker patients with just a short amount of time.

"Fortunately, HRIMM continues to actively support and follow-up on a few patients who are in dire need," she said.

The ministry's goal is that the medical care will continue after they're packed up and headed home. This can include leaving supplies and medications with small local clinics, pursuing funding and staffing for a mobile dental clinic, and incorporating local mental health and dental services into their work. One team decided to financially support a young woman through a midwifery program so that she, in turn, can support the community where she lives, organizers report.

"Indeed, our journey was far and difficult. However, the smiles, hugs and hospitality shown to us touched our hearts in every core and that made a huge difference. This experience has enriched and nourished my life and soul. It was all worth it," said Dr. Aducayen.

Father Francis Le, OP, founded Holy Rosary International Medical Mission.

"Father was assigned to Holy Rosary at the time of our first trip," said Aileen Hayes, a nurse. "We exist because of his vision."

"We started to help the poor in Vietnam and the Philippines," said Father Le, who is now assigned as parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle.

As a student in Dominican formation, Father Le had traveled to Lima, Peru. "I went there to visit Dominican students," he said. "There I saw a lot of poor people."

Father Le had brought with him over-the-counter medicine and toothpaste, which he gave away.

"It gave me the idea to found a medical mission," he said.

Father Le's sister is a medical doctor and professor in Vietnam. In his first years of freelance medical missionary work, he would fill up two suitcases with leftover medications to take to her. "My sister is helping the poor," he said. Lack of money can deny people access to medical care in hospitals. Her response: Come to her home, where her living room doubles as a clinic.

Father Le saw religious sisters near Hue doing the same work. He knew more medical care than what he could fit in two suitcases was desperately needed.

"It was not enough," he said. "I can't do this on my own."

He prayed over it.

When he came home, he learned that Holy Rosary parishioner Dr. Libby Albinda was about to retire.

"A light went on," said Father Le. He shared his vision of a medical missionary group, telling her: "I need a medical director on board."

Dr. Albinda said yes. Father Le paid $750 to file for the nonprofit status, and Holy Rosary International Medical Mission was born.

"Every year I would invite medical doctors and nurses," he said. For the first six years, they went to Vietnam. In the two weeks they would spend in the country, they would see 2,000 people, he said.

While the emphasis in the first years was Vietnam and the Philippines, the political situation in Vietnam precludes a mission there soon.

Father Le continues to serve as chaplain of the group. If his role was "to light the fire," that torch continues to be carried by the volunteers.

The group's website is sprinkled with stories of "what can I do." Among the volunteers is Sandra Thompson, who turned a pile of donated upholstery swatches into durable and colorful eyeglass cases, which were highly prized by the recipients who received eyeglasses during a mission.

Milly Estrada serves on the HRIMM board and handled logistics for the mission to Peru last year. She had first come to the group to share information about Peru, her native land.

"I fell in love with the idea of not only helping my counterparts but also doing it under the umbrella of my Catholic faith," she said.

"We encountered challenges after challenges, mostly related to the political context in which Lima revolves. Then comes the arriving to the country. This could be a challenge too since Lima could be, like any big city, dangerous. We battled customs like never before, but thanks to Him, we won and were able to retrieve our medications. The challenge of long journeys can only be compensated by the grateful happy faces of the people we see."

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