An impoverished community in the Philippines has become a second home for medical students at Notre Dame’s Darlinghurst campus.
Since 2013 the students have been working with the charity Team Philippines to provide basic health services for the people of Calauan, a rural township in the province of Laguna, about three hours’ drive south of the capital Manila.
On November 24, the charity returns to Calauan with its largest-ever group of volunteers: 22 medical students from Notre Dame and eight dentists and students from The University of Sydney.
Over the past few months, students from Notre Dame have raised more than $10,000 to fund their travel costs and living expenses in the Philippines.
Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe, Head of General Practice and Primary Care Research at the School of Medicine who set up Team Philippines, says the student volunteers provide essential services to people with very limited access to medical facilities.
“Apart from running medical clinics, we’ll be distributing a lot of information about holistic health issues,” she says. “We’re only on the ground for a week, so we need to be very focused.”
Professor Hespe first encountered the Calauan community when she joined an emergency mission to the Philippines in 2010. Many of its inhabitants had been relocated from Manila after Typhoon Ketsana.
“They were living in concrete Besser block homes with no electricity, no running water and no access to shops, work, education or fresh food,” she recalls.
Team Philippines has been visiting the community twice a year since 2013, running medical clinics, holding health education classes, offering women’s health screening, eye and vision clinics and providing free dental care, including dental prosthetics.
“We provide a comprehensive medical clinic with access to essential medications and investigations and employ a full-time community nurse who can supervise the medical program and medications throughout the year when are back in Australia – making it easier for the community to maintain a commitment to their own health,” she says.
In addition, the program employs a full time Youth Worker and Farmer who works with members of the local church to oversee a number of community led projects such as a feeding program for malnourished children and their parents, a play group and preschool program, small-scale agricultural projects including mushroom farms, chicken and goat breeding programs and vertical home vegetable gardens.
“We have established a wonderful sense of trust with the community because they know we’re coming back,” says Professor Hespe. “Team Philippines has given them an opportunity to make choices about their own health and wellbeing. It’s not about charity, but partnership and empowerment.”
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