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Medicine

Tacloban Free Clinic Benefits 6,000 Impoverished Locals

Super Typhoon Haiyan swept across Tacloban City in the Philippines in November 2013 and left a devastating trail of destruction in the heavily populated city. In May this year, a combined team of Tzu Chi medical volunteers from three nations came together to hold the third large-scale free clinic in the city.


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Tzu Chi medical volunteers performing a surgery on a patient in a make-shift surgical and treatment room that was converted from a classroom. (Photo by Ong Leng Hong)

“Today’s free clinic will help everyone to be rid of their physical illnesses, but illnesses of the heart and mind need to be treated with kindness and charity.”

Manila’s Tzu Chi volunteer Wu Cong Ying had arrived as early as 6 am at the school hall of Leyte Progressive High School, the venue of the third Tzu Chi large-scale free clinic in Tacloban, Philippines, to introduce Tzu Chi to local residents, allowing them to pass their waiting time in a relaxed manner as they learned more about the organisation. He shared that disasters often originate from the disharmony in the hearts of people, and that the collective goodwill of everyone could ward off disasters.

Tzu Chi started humbly 51 years ago, from the collective efforts of 30 simple housewives, who each saved 50 NT cents daily into their bamboo coin banks for charity; this was known as the “Bamboo Bank Era”. And Wu encouraged the locals to come forward to offer their own little tokens of love to help others in need, too.

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Early in the morning on the first day of the free clinic, many locals had gathered at the gates of Leyte Progressive High School, standing in long queues, waiting for their turn to be registered. (Photo by Zhang Qing He)

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Local residents respond generously to the call for donations after hearing the inspiring story of the “Bamboo Bank Era”. Some who were passing by even went home specially to take their own fully-laden bamboo coin banks and then brought them to the site. (Photo by Ong Leng Hong)

The free clinic organised by Tzu Chi Philippines in Tacloban was a much-anticipated event and common hope of the locals. The clinic, which was held from 26th to 29th May 2017, was the third such event since the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in 2013. Besides local doctors, volunteer medical teams from Singapore and Taiwan also joined the ranks in this humanitarian medical mission.

The extensive range of free medical services offered included dentistry, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), optical services, and ENT (ear, nose and throat) treatments. However, cataract surgeries were performed in Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Hospital, and a total of 112 surgeries were performed by four Filipino ophthalmologists.

In order to shorten the waiting time on the first day of the free clinic, the original noon-day opening hour was brought forward to the morning. The deputy mayor of Tacloban visited the site of the free clinic on the first day, to express his gratitude for the selfless giving of the Tzu Chi volunteers.

Restoring Beautiful Smiles to Patients

The dental team in this mission saw the most number of patients, and served a total of 1,662 patients. Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Philippines Manuel Siao shared that local tooth extractions and fillings treatments cost about 500 to 1000 pesos (SGD14 to SGD28), and these were exorbitant amounts to most of the locals, whose average daily income was only 260 pesos (SGD7). At the dental section of the free clinic, besides tooth extractions and fillings, the team even added scaling services to provide better protection for the patients’ oral health. Due to the significant increase in patient numbers and inadequate water supply in the high school, a Filipino Chinese volunteer firefighters’ association took the initiative to provide water to the school.

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Apart from extractions, filling and scaling, the dental team also accommodated the patients’ need for root canal treatment. (Photo by Ng Sher Lin)

What was even more precious was that the free dental clinic even made special accommodation to the patients’ need for root canal treatment. 18-year-old Glecy had only one third of her front teeth left and seldom smiled. With the aid of an X-ray to determine the positions of her cavities, the dental team provided root canal treatment and teeth filling for her during a two-hour surgery, which helped to restore her confidence and beautiful smile.

As many of the local children had severe tooth decay, Singapore dentist Dr Lin Yuan Xu led the dental team in providing oral health education to the local children. With a set of props and their lively instructions, they taught local children the correct way of brushing teeth, and even gave each child a set of toothbrush and toothpaste. As some children didn’t have the habit of brushing teeth, their actions were rather awkward, and the volunteers patiently guided them to practise brushing their teeth on the spot.

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A dental volunteer teaching local children the correct way of brushing teeth with the aid of tooth models and toothbrushes. (Photo by Ong Leng Hong)

This was Dr. Lin’s fifth overseas medical mission trip. In addition to his clinical duties, he also took on the responsibility of providing health education. In his free time, he even picked up the broom to help with the clean-up. “Sweeping the floor allows my mind to take a rest,” he remarked.

Dr. Lin was always patient and full of love when he was seeing young patients. He said, “A dentist’s work is not limited to dealing with oral health issue, but also about learning how to better communicate with people and to understand their needs so as to provide the most appropriate treatment.”

Treating Patients as Family

On the second day of the free clinic, torrential rains fell from the sky, and volunteers decided to open the clinic early, allowing the residents to wait in the tent area and be sheltered from the rain. The heavy rainfall caused puddles of water to accumulate in the waiting area, but they were quickly cleared by volunteers so as to result in minimum inconvenience to the residents queuing nearby.

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Heavy rainfall on the second day of the free clinic caused puddles of water to accumulate in the waiting area, which were quickly cleared by volunteers. (Photo by Mulias Lian)

Preparing daily meals for over 600 people on duty at the free clinic, including lunch and dinner, was a massive undertaking, and six highly experienced culinary volunteers hailing from Manila took this mammoth task upon themselves. The team had specially arrived in Tacloban two days prior to the commencement of the free clinic, to prepare the daily meals and refreshments.

All the meals were prepared in the central kitchen at the Palo Tzu Chi Great Love Village. As they were concerned that some of the ingredients might not be available locally, the culinary team even specially brought them over from Manila. They painstakingly planned the daily menu, which they hoped would cater for everyone’s palates after a hard day’s work in the hot and humid weather.

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Manila volunteer Lv Xiu Xiu (middle) instructing local volunteers how to stir fry vegetables at Palo Tzu Chi Great Love Village’s central kitchen. (Photo by Ng Sher Lin)

This round of free clinic even included a massage zone, to provide muscle-soothing relief to the aching bodies of patients and volunteers. Masseur Fernano had specially invited his fellow massage students to serve in this meaningful mission. Three years ago, Fernano’s 3-year-old daughter suffered from epilepsy, and received help from Tzu Chi. Today, he decided to stop work temporarily to serve at the free clinic as a token of gratitude for Tzu Chi’s aid. He said, “Work can be done daily but the free clinic only happens once a year, I can’t afford to miss it.”

Language barrier is often a challenge in overseas relief missions. Tacloban volunteer Irene Rempilo was invited by her younger sister to help with translation at the free clinic. She had even brought along 17 teachers from her education centre to serve as interpreters for the medical teams.

Irene was Singapore ENT Specialist Dr Ho Eu Chin’s interpreter at the free clinic. Dr. Ho humbled himself during every consultation and treated each patient as if his own kinsfolk, a humility that deeply touched Irene. She discovered that volunteering brought an unspeakable joy to her spirit, and shared that serving at the free clinic not only helped to widen her medical knowledge, but also taught her to see others as equals. Seeing the suffering of the locals also sowed in her heart, a desire to serve the needy.

The 3-day free clinic benefited more than 6,000 locals. The Tzu Chi volunteer teams consisting of 144 medical personnel and 441 volunteers from Tacloban, Manila, Ormoc, Taiwan, and Singapore were all united in one heart with the aim of bringing relief to the local sick and needy.

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Singapore nurse Kong Kim Yock comforts a circumcised boy. She even gave him a stationery gift set after his operation, to calm and encourage the anxious boy. (Photo by Ong Leng Hong)

The Joy of Patients Spurs Doctors on

Before the end of the free clinic, a stroke patient came to the TCM section. 34-year-old Wilma Galos was diagnosed with high blood pressure three months ago, and after two weeks of taking medication, she ran out of money for more medication. Wilma fell down two months earlier after a mild stroke, and was not able to move her right limbs freely. However, after Taiwanese TCM Dr. Wu Sen’s acupuncture treatment, she was able to walk with support.

*Note: In the spirit of “Great Love Without Borders”, the volunteer team from Tzu Chi Merit Organisation (Singapore) utilised their personal leave from work and participated in this humanitarian mission at their own expense.


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