Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hospices for the poor, piglets for women

How exciting and challenging it is to work among the young, the promising, the poor who are strong and who could claim a future. How wonderful it is to count the successes.

But how noble it is to work among the forgotten and the least, among those who do not matter even to their own next of kin. They have no wealth to give back, except a smile and a thank you, and a lesson or two on how to love.

I have just read about an Asia-Pacific Conference on hospice care that is starting today here in Manila. The Philippines must now be on the map of hospice care.

The Philippines is now known as a training ground for caregiving and a source of health workers for the world—in both the domestic setting and institutions such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Professional caregiving in the domestic setting is commonly associated with overseas work or with the rich who could afford to hire caregivers. This chore used to be part of the household chore of yayas and houseboys, but now, one could hire trained ones who want to earn while waiting for overseas employment.

In the past, the word hospice conjured up images of old, sick, poor, unwanted and abandoned people with nowhere to go and left in homes such as the ones founded by Mother Teresa. Or of rich elderly folk entrusted by their next of kin in the hands of church-run institutions where they could be cared for and live comfortably until they die.

Until recently, the word hospice was not commonly mentioned in the Philippines and the one most people knew was the Hospicio de San Jose run by nuns near the Malacanang area and which, if I am not mistaken, dates back to the Spanish era.

The common impression was that hospices were for rich nations whose people were too busy to care for their old and sick family members. Filipinos usually take care of their loved ones in their own homes as culture dictated. But now new ways of caregiving for both the rich and the poor are in place and hospice care has come of age.

Mother Teresa-type institutions are no longer the only ones that take in the sick, dying poor. Committed lay persons have taken on the job as a part of their ministry, raising their own funds so that the poor may also experience loving care. The poor need not be terminally ill, and with proper care and medication, they could have a new lease on life and have meaningful lives once again.

I have had the opportunity of visiting and experiencing such places, and then leaving so inspired and edified. One of these is Anawim, Home of God’s Poor.

Anawim is nestled in a sprawling five-hectare property in the outskirts of Montalban, Rizal. It is run by the Anawim Lay Missions Foundation, Inc., the “mercy mission” of the Light of Jesus Community, a Catholic charismatic group founded by Bo Sanchez, a lay married preacher. Anawim is the Hebrew word for “the poor of the Lord.”

Anawim’s residents come from different walks of life and circumstances. Somewhere, sometime, at a certain point in their lives, they had reached a dead end. For most of them, there was no one and nothing left except a last painful stretch of a life that had yet to be spent. To whom shall they go?

The stories of their lives are varied and rich. Like the story of Jose Jobahib, in his late 70s, who once lived in the Payatas dumpsite slums. He was all set to go to the Quiapo Bridge in Manila. He was taking with him Judith, his 48-year-old daughter with Down’s Syndrome, and with her tied to him, was going to jump off the bridge.

Anawim found them and they found Anawim.

The Madre de Amor Hospice based in Laguna is not a facility in the strict sense of the word because the patients live in their own homes. In other words, hospice care—medication, counseling, etc—is brought to their homes by trained professionals and volunteers.]

A good friend of mine, Monina Allarey Mercado, is one of the founders of Madre de Amor.

I was able to visit the home of a woman with an inoperable breast tumor the size of a ten-kilo jackfruit. That was two years ago. She was washing clothes, laughing heartily, when I found her. She is still very much around, Monina told me.

The Philippine Cancer Society also has a home-based “hospice care”. I was able to visit terminally ill patients in slums and hovels and see for myself how holes-in-the wall could be transformed into comfortable “pre-departure areas”.

It was moving to see poor and emaciated patients brighten up when the hospice team came to ease their pain and utter comforting words.

10 women, 10 pigs. There I was, a journalist, bringing to a 5-star hotel dinner a sheaf of paper with the digital photos and mini-bios of 10 very poor women of Dingalan, Aurora. I was submitting it to my friend, Hong Kong-based Daphne Ceniza Kuok. Though comfortably married and ensconced in HK, Daphne is still an activist through and through. She’s involved with International Care Ministries and also helps Filipino workers in HK. The fire within her has not died.

I told Daphne that some friends of mine from NGOs pooled their money (P10,000 each) to help poor women in Aurora get out of the wreckage of last year’s typhoon. Each woman was given P10,000 (which can’t even buy an LV) worth of piglet, feeds, etc. (never cash) until the pig was ready for selling. This worked, and the sales earned the women a little something, like good meals for their families.

The problem: Every P10,000, as agreed upon, had to be taken back so that other clamoring women (“Kami naman!”) could have a crack at it too. If only the women could hold on to it for a little longer, like two to three years, and make it run a full cycle. Gets nyo?