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Waterfalls, clinics and tofu- Week 1 in Tacloban!

PHILIPPINES | Sunday, 13 July 2014 | Views [1706] | Comments [4]

Tacloban has been a great experience so far. Here’s the breakdown:


Homestay is great. I love my little windlowless room, it’s quite quiet with the fan going so I can actually sleep without being woken up again and again by roosters! My Nanay is the BEST cook, I get different meals every day that are massive and gourmet-delicious. For example, it will be something like a mango, vegetable pancit (noodles), coconut vegetable soup and some bread, or I’ll get a mango (always a mango, twice a day! I’m in heaven), rice, vegetable stew and adobo tofu. Nanay used to work cooking in a hospital so she is quite creative and flexible in adjusting Pinoy/Filipino food to suit different diets. I’m eating better than any other time!

Volunteers are great. There’s a group of about 20 of us, all working on different projects like nutrition, community gardens, rural clinics and teaching, and we all get along really well. We’ve been out for beers most nights that I’ve been here, went to a bar in town and saw a live band, and yesterday 16 of us went on the excursion that the organization, VFV- Volunteer for the Visayans- offers once a month to volunteers. We rented a private jeepney and enjoyed a very scenic ride to the boat we would take to the island with the waterfall. An American girl in the group ALSO LISTENS TO MATISYAHU AND THE CAT EMPIRE, so she lent me her iPod so I could listen which made my day, since I broke my mp3 player 4 days into the trip and haven’t listened to my music since.

The jeepney blew a flat tire just 15 minutes into the journey, of course, so we played soccer on the roadside for 15 minutes until the driver changed it, and off we were again! So far I have not had one day without an adventure in transportation since I got to Tacloban :P We arrived about 2 hours later at our destination and hiked for about ten minutes to a beautiful waterfall and natural swimming pool. We climbed the rocks around the falls, played in the waterfall, played catch with the soccer ball for hours, swam and did nothing but relax from 9am until 3. I have had very few days that relaxing in my life, it was soo nice.

The transportation is hell. I’m still not quite figuring out the route, since seeing out of a crowded morning jeepney verges on impossible. On the first day, I arrived at 9, an hour late, because I got the right jeepney, got off at the right place after asking where the heck we were, got a 5-person tricycle (the motorbike with a sidecar on it which takes 5 people, almost like a mini bus or something) to my placement. About a half-hour walk from the clinic, the motorbike blew a flat so we waited on the side of the road in rural Philippines for about 40 minutes, awaiting the next tricycle. Coming home 4 hours later, I got completely lost and ended up way past my stop and ended up walking for half an hour in the blazing afternoon sun, realizing that I wasn’t anywhere near my neighbourhood, then walking half an hour back to find a tricycle. He drove me…well, two minutes past the furthest point I had walked. Yes, I had been going the right direction. He let me off at a different entrance than the one I’m used to and I ended up inadvertently recruiting a local woman to walk me ten minutes through the winding streets back to the centre and my homestay, after asking her for directions. On day two, I took the jeepney too far and ended up two towns over, in Tolosa. I then needed to catch a different jeepney going back the other way to get to Tanauan (Tah-nah-wahn), ym transfer point. Then I waited 45 minutes for the tricycle to fill up enough to leave, with me finally just paying for two fares so we could leave when we waited forEVER for the last seat to fill. Arrived at work an hour and ten minutes late. Thank god the nurses, midwife and doctor understand. I will attempt again this week and am hoping I get the hang of this!!!

The clinic is great. There is a makeshift delivery room replacing the one that collapsed during Typhoon Yolanda, a small prenatal office where checkups occur, an office for admitting, an office for the doctor’s consultations, and a small pharmacy. The ceiling is basically a tarp and apparently leaks when it rains, another result of typhoon damage. They have learned that aid will come soon to help rebuild, though they don’t know when. On day 1, Thursday, I helped with admitting for the whole morning, and am slowly learning Waray-Waray for phrases like:

Last name (apelido), first name (ngaran), age (edad), home community (barangay), what is the problem or concern (ano at in problema?), what is your name (ano it imo ngaran?), thank you (salamat), you’e welcome (shit, I forgot that one already!), scale (timbung, like please step on the scale), and the names of various symptoms like a cold (ubo). I also try to use good afternoon (maupay na kulop) and good evening (maupay na gabi) as much as I can for practice! The kids always say “Hi!” excitedly when you walk by, so I like to reply in Waray to surprise them haha…

Goal is to become somewhat useful at the language, but it has been so busy for so many days now! Will learn more tonight for sure since I have the day off.

Day 2 I helped with the prenatal clinic that they run three days a week. The midwife re-taught me how to measure fundal height (the measurement from the top of a pregnant woman’s pubic bone to the top of her abdomen under the sternum) to help determine how far along she is, to take an ultrasound to check fetal heart rate, and to palpate/poke around the abdomen to check for fetal positioning…I don’t think I’ll ever have that skill down-pat but it’s impressive when he does it! Then we calculate appx fetal age using long division based on her last menstrual cycle, and calculated the baby’s appx weight based on the fundal height. It was pretty awesome! He let me help out and do most of the patient-poking by myself which is always fun J He also told me that if a delivery happens while I’m on-shift, I’ll assist in the delivery! I’m hoping that happens!

The situation is not easy for the staff or the patients, to say the least. The patients pay what they can, it seems, by giving a “donation” which might be as small as twenty-five cents. Last year they were given an ambulance by the local government, but shortly after, the typhoon hit and collapsed a cement roof on top of it, rendering it useless. They have not been given a replacement and it remains visible under a pile of rubble next to the building. I asked what they do when a complicated labor occurs, noting that “You can’t put a woman who’s in complicated labor on the back of a motorcycle!” He kind of paused and arched his eyebrows. “You have to,” he said. Better than letting her die on the table in a clinic that has almost no medical equipment or medications. “We tell the family to find someone they know with a motorcycle now, then send her on the (half-hour) trip to the nearest hospital.”

A little shocking, I’ll admit.

A fellow volunteer told me of a clinic he works at that re-uses needles after sterilizing them, due to lack of supplies, so I’m grateful that this clinic does not (at this time, anyway) need to resort to that. I was so thrilled when, after I gave an immunization to a pregnant woman for tetanus- something common here since most people do not have this shot, unlike back home- he showed me a sharps container to dispose of the needle in. A relief for now, though I don’t know if that is all the time or only when they have supplies like that.

The doctor gave an injectable painkiller to a patient with gastritis and then told me that she tries to save them, since they only have then vials of it that they got from one of the charities working in this region. Ten vials. It’s difficult to grasp the idea of ever having only ten vials of something as important as a painkiller.

Things are different here, of course, in ways that I’ve read about in books about humanitarian work but are still so hard to come to terms with when you witness it in real life. All I can say is thank god for these staff, who get paid so little and work under high-pressure conditions but who provide some of the most valuable services to the people who live in the surrounding towns. Without them, there would be no hospital referrals, no prenatal care, no medical assistance for deliveries, no immunizations and no antibiotics (so important in a place where serious infections can come out of the smallest injuries due to needing to work in fields, siblings living with no parents, playing with open sewers nearby, insects and animals that transmit bacteria and parasites, occasionally lacking soap and the millions of other risk factors that exist here).


Amazing fact of the day: The midwife told me that, as a nurse in Tacloban and other areas of the country, nurses can not find jobs and need to volunteer in the hospitals first before being hired. If the hospital folks like you, you may get hired. After up to A YEAR of unpaid, full-time work. And then each nurse is assigned up to 40 patients. At home, each nurse is assigned up to 6 patients, for some perspective on that.


Pretty incredible. I feel blessed to be here, learning and watching and making comparatively sad attempts to help anything. I’m feeling that I’ll help very little compared to how much I’ll learn from the staff and the patients, but luckily tutoring VFV’s sponsor kids every evening makes me feel a little more useful J They’re extremely enthusiastic and interested, and they’re really funny! I usually end up in the grade7-8 group, which is a good age group for me since I don’t remember enough high school to tutor the high school kids but don’t usually have the desire to spend a lot of time with kids under ten (except for Mischa, of course!).


Anyway, thank you for reading my very long blog! Will post soon!



the transportation is always interesting...you gotta love the jeepneys!! That's very interesting about the nurses and explains what Matt (from Cebu) meant when he was talking with us in Bagio about it. Great to hear about the Nanay and her cooking and glad to found a good group of friends to hang with. Enjoy the diving this weekend..I'm jealous! Dad

  Wayne Jul 19, 2014 2:47 AM


Amazing stories Kirsten! Love reading as always! Glad to hear you're being fed well at least....I love mangoes too! Love, Joe

  Joe Jul 25, 2014 4:11 PM


Wow...makes us appreciate what we have in Canada. Salamat! Love reading your travel blog baby! Take care lovey.

  Auntie Brenda Jul 25, 2014 9:34 PM


Such a culture shock just reading this blog! Man, if I were that doctor I wouldnt want to see the last donated ambulance demolished in rubble everyday when you couldnt get another one..!

  Nicole Aug 1, 2014 9:03 AM

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