Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breastfeeding class

During our mission conference last week, I talked with one of the other single gals out here about her ministry with street kids out in Silang, Cavite. Because of the nature of her ministry, she often gets involved with their families (if they have them). She found out about one boy's baby sister being in the hospital with sepsis. Upon visiting this little one and her mom, she was stunned to find the baby emaciated because the public hospital does not provide formula and the family had no money to buy it. The baby was septic because of diffuse scabies. The baby is just one year old now and the mom is 9 months pregnant with her next one. Erin asked me to come down and talk with the mom about the importance of breastfeeding and try to see if there were any problems that kept her from breastfeeding her other kids.

I drove down yesterday to meet with this lady and actually ended up talking with about 10. We gathered under a big tree in some borrowed chairs and I had a wonderful time getting them to interact and share about their feeding experiences, some common misconceptions, and the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. It was great to see the moms encouraging each other and one of the successful breastfeeders offered to help a young mom with a four-month-old try to relactate!

It really broke my heart to see where these families live and it's easy to see why there is so much sickness, including scabies. The river that is supposed to be synonymous with life is filled with trash, including dirty diapers, bottles, cans, and all manner of disease. This is the same river they wash their clothes with, the kids play in, and some even choose to bath in it.

Please pray that these moms would take what was shared to heart and that they would be able to overcome traditions and the status symbol of formula, see past the myths, and that they would support each other for healthier kids!

Many of the street kids come home to this

The river...I counted about 8 diapers floating in the mess

cute kiddos! Fascinated with my whiter-than-most-"Cano's" skin

A sweetie-pie

she's not sure what to think :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pocktbacs and fakes

The other day, I noticed that one of my new Filipina friends had a similar hand sanitizer/ "pocketbac" holder to one I had gotten from Bath & Body Works. I asked where she had gotten hers and quickly learned it was a knock-off, a copy-cat of the one from B&BW (quite common here). In not quite my proudest moment, I got all indignant inside thinking, "Well, MINE is the real one. Yours is a fake." I know, not exactly a pure attitude...thank goodness I didn't say it out loud, but the thought was still there (And if that friend is reading this, I'm very sorry!). Later, I dissected my motives and why I had gotten all snobby and proud inside. And while it doesn't excuse my high-and-mighty thoughts, I guess I wanted something from "home" that was uniquely mine. Perhaps it was that materialism that reared it's ugly head...the thought that I have something you don't. No matter. It was ugly.

But it got me to thinking that I'm just as guilty for being a copy-cat. I can be very good at looking authentic, seeming real. I know how to say a good prayer, appear sincere, but deep inside I'm not always feeling it. I'm not real. It can sometimes be an act out of habit. In other words, I can sometimes be a knock off. There's so much pressure, largely self-induced, to keep that halo shiny and polished...and how often I fall short, stumbling along the way.

Praise God it's a journey and the refining doesn't happen over night. Praise God that He can see our motives and correct us. Praise God for grace and second, tenth, and one-thousand-seventy-sixth chances.

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect" Romans 12:2, NLT

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Walk Among the Rice Fields

Earlier this week was ACTION's annual field conference. A time I usually dreaded as a kid. It's a gathering of all the ACTION missionaries for a little R&R, as well a spiritual enrichment. I hated it. There were three boys who were one year older than me who loved to use this time to torment and tease me mercilessly while the adults were in meetings. But I whine and I digress. All that to say, I had mixed feelings about this mandatory trip...

This conference was VASTLY different. It was wonderful to attend as an adult and be refreshed and renewed...even though I've only been here for a month. I loved reconnecting with several familiar faces from my childhood, but on a completely different level. I'm excited to work with this great bunch of people. The highlight was an afternoon walk among the rice fields with a couple other families. What started out as a paved road among some houses, quickly became a dirt path, then a tiny pathway in between rice fields. Stunning. Here are some pictures - enjoy!

Rice drying on the road in front of neighborhood store
Wash day!

Beautiful river of life for these people

simple living

Working in the fields

Why hello, Mr Kalabaw!

Just a man and his field

the beautiful paddies and volcano

Friday, March 25, 2011


My first newsletter from the field is on it's way to mailboxes, both physical and virtual, all over the world. To see it now, click here. :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

The rickety taxis

Growing up as a kid, I was NEVER allowed to travel anywhere by myself, for obvious reasons! After nearly being kidnapped as a 10 year-old, those restrictions where even tighter and I wasn't even allowed to stroll through the mall by myself. (By the way, I just found out that the Philippines is home to 3 of the 11 largest malls in the world!) Now that I'm back here as an adult, I find I am a bit leery to be traveling by myself, even though I'm a "big girl". It's an odd feeling to just step outside of my house, hail a cab, and head to my destination. Though it always seems I luck out with the rickety, squeaky, and barely road-worthy taxis.

I have a safety system in place: I always text the name of the cab - yes, they all have names, a humorous subject for another entry - and the license plate number to another missionary in case anything happens...and I carry my pepper spray in my hand. I'm safe, though I must be vigilant.

I always try to start a conversation with the driver for several reasons:
1.) to let him know that I speak the language and know the area so he doesn't try to drive in circles to raise the meter price
2.) to let him know I love the Philippines and am here to serve
3.) to get him to turn down the radio (often the biggest motivator!)

These conversations always start with, "Wow! How do you e-speak Tagalog ma'am?" And then interest in what I do and why I'm here. I had one driver who was a CRAZY driver (seriously, I feared for my life!) who use to be a provincial bus driver...ah, that's explains the driving. It was my first time going to this particular destination and I found out later he did take me in circles. :( And he was super defensive of his people. I couldn't get him to understand that I came here to help, not make him feel bad that his country requires help. Shoot, we ALL need help, no matter where we are. This sentiment is quite rare here and I was honestly surprised at his indignancy.

However, on Wednesday I had a rather interesting conversation with one taxi driver who was a bit jaded with his religion and asked what church I attend, what I believe, etc... To be perfectly frank, I'm not much of a vocal evangelist (so why am I a missionary you ask, I know...I've asked it too). So I found myself in an interesting position sharing what I believe and the differences between what his church teaches. He was sad when we arrived at my destination, though he did mention that he knew of a Christian church near his house that he would try out. Please pray for this guy! (I didn't even get his name.)

On a related note, I DO have a vehicle that God miraculously provided, but due to over-congestion - an understatement! - each vehicle is restricted from driving on the road 1 day per week. In otherwords, I can't drive between 7am-7pm on Wednesdays. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"high blood"

I took a break from my workshops and observations today and helped out at the birthing home during their prenatal clinic this morning. Normally there are anywhere from 5-15 nursing students from local nursing schools milling around to help with the process, but it's summer break here right now and we were quite short handed!

We saw 103 preggos, all at varying stages of belly bulging. I mostly did blood tests to check for anemia and helped check the moms in, pulling their records, taking vitals, etc... One mom stood out to me. She was only 20, a primip (first baby), and quite slender. Her baby's father was with her and interested in her progress. I took her BP and got 180/120. Yikes! I checked again on the other arm...the same. I called over another nurse to verify and she got 170/120, still high. Blood pressures this high are very dangerous in anyone, particularly in pregnant women. We referred her on to a local public hospital who could give her medications to bring down her blood pressure and protect her little one. Please pray for this mom and her little family!

It was a BUSY morning, but so rewarding. I saw quite a bit of anemia as I read the lab tests, a common problem as these women do not have access to much iron rich foods. Their diet mostly consists of simple carbs like rice, ramen noodles, and white bread. Leafy greens are usually available, but there's not much education about eating them. That's something that we encourage all our moms to add to their diet.

Tomorrow I'll be at the Philippine General Hospital for a two-day seminar/workshop on lactation (breastfeeding). I'm looking forward to more learning, but I have a feeling my brain is going to feel a bit like mush on Thursday night. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Some Stats

Here are some statistics that I learned from the Essential Newborn Care workshop:
  • more than 50% of the Philippine population is below poverty line
  • of those who make minimum wage, about 26% of their income is spent on formula
  • the Philippines is one of 42 countries that accounts for 95% of global under 5yrs mortality
  • 82,000 children die annually in the Philippines, 45% are neonates, with 3 out of 4 dying within the first week of life
  • Strict breastfeeding is the single greatest preventative success in lowering mortality, by 13%
  • Of 25 babies that recently died at a local hospital from an infection outbreak (which shut down the ward!), none had received colostrum
  • At Baguio General Hospital, breastfeeding and couplet care (when baby and mama stay together for duration of stay), has caused an 89% decrease in sepsis in neonates!!
Those are some powerful stats! And it means that we need to educate the poorest of the poor regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and safe health practices. Please pray for me as I work with local doctors and health professionals to develop a curriculum that will meet these needs in a culturally relevant and sensitive way. Thanks!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Embrace

Today was absolutely marvelous! At the invitation of one of the senior residents at the Philippine General Hospital, I attended a workshop put on by Unang Yakap about Essential Intrapartum Newborn Care. Lectures by Obstetricians and Neonatologists were given about how evidence should be guiding practice. Not only was this highly enlightening, but I got an offer by an Obstetrician to informally train me to perform and read ultrasounds! Praise God! I am so excited for how He is providing. I also made several connections with key doctors who may be able to train me and offer assistance now and in the future.

With St Luke's OB, Dra Manlapaz, Unang Yakap leaders and neonatologists, Dra Silvestre, Dra Capili, and Dra Sareno

These workshops are taking place all over the country by a key group of MDs who have given up their private practice in order to focus on reducing mortality rates among mothers and babies. Unang Yakap: Yakap ng Ina, Yakap ng Buhay literally translates to, "First Embrace: Embrace of Mother, Embrace of Life." Yakap can also be translated to "hug." I love it. The Philippine Department of Health has now mandated that all physicians, midwives, and healthcare personnel follow these guidelines regarding the standard practice of care during and immediately following birth.

One thing that made me excited was that it wasn't just big-wig physicians who attended this particular workshop at one of the top hospitals in the Philippines, it was also the nursing staff. Way to be empowered Filipino nurses!

during a group exercise, doctors & nurses working together :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Favorite Starbucks in the World!

While I was waiting for my passport to get stamped with the amended visa on Monday, I sat in my favorite Starbucks in the world....and I've been to them all over the world. I've even been to the busiest Starbucks in the US, which is on the southbound I5 just north of the Grapevine in SoCal. But this one is by far the most unique!Immigrations is located inside the old walled city of Manila, founded by the Spaniards in the late 1500s. Just across the street, located inside the wall, is this Starbucks. It used to be a entry/exit roadway for horse-drawn carriages, then was sealed off and became barracks for soldiers. And now it's a delightful Starbucks! It's a wonderful haven to sit and have a mocha while waiting for my passport to be processed. Outside it's chaos, noise, stress, and confusion. Inside it's familiar, peaceful, hip, and relaxed.

Below is a picture of Intramuros from the late 1800s when it was still a fort

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The day I got 4 proposals

Yesterday (Monday) I trooped down to Immigrations inside the old walled city of Manila. Intramuros. I found a wonderful pastor's wife through a mutual friend who was able to help me navigate the confusing system. She confirmed that my returning resident, 1 year visa was a mistake and I do not qualify because I have no Filipino ancestry. She also helped me identify every piece of paper I needed to get my non-profit visa...and nothing has to come from the US! PRAISE GOD! Now I just pray that it all goes through smoothly.

She then led me to another office full of older men who could amend my passport to the correct visitor's visa until I can convert it to the non-profit visa. They all argued with her that because I have a Filipino birth certificate, I do qualify for the 1 year visa. After about 5 of the guys got together to discuss, and a gentle admonishment from my friend to uphold the law and that it was a matter of integrity, they agreed to amend my visa. Of course they asked me what I was doing here and I bemoaned the fact that I would have to go through the hassle and fuss of getting the right visa for missionary work. One of the guys grinned and said, "I have the perfect solution. Just apply for the 13-a visa!"
"What's that," I asked.
"All you need to do is marry a Filipino and you won't have to worry about visas." Then about 4 of the guys all offered to marry me. The only guy who didn't offer was lamenting that he was married. I laughed with them and again my friend said, "Yes, but her first priority and criteria is a man who loves God and is a follower of Christ."
What an awesome testimony! Yeah, these guys were half kidding with their proposals, but at the same time, it was a great opportunity for my friend and me to uphold the integrity of the law and the Word.

So I managed to keep my cool, meet some really neat people, and get my visa straightened out. Thanks for praying! It's not over yet, though. I still need to file all the paperwork within the next few days. It should go fairly quickly and smoothly, but I've learned that you can never count on that when the government is involved, no matter what country you're in!

If you think about it, please also pray those guys who watched integrity in action, not something that's so common in those offices. As a side note, while I was waiting to pick up my amended passport, I watched several bribes taking place and money was slyly slipped into palms. I'm glad I got to be different. Here's an interesting news article about one government official trying to clean it up.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

raising the bar

Has it really only been two weeks? It feels like I've been here for two months already!

This week my jetlag finally caught up with me as I struggled with exhaustion and multiple rounds of discouragement. As easy as last week was is as difficult as this week has been. That's not to say that this week hasn't been productive or had it's high points, though. Excellent progress has been made towards more training and learning opportunities!

Prayers are definitely needed though. Most of it boils down to my visa situation. Without going into too much detail, I was mistakenly given a returning Filipino visa that is reserved for those with Filipino blood. This is not the first time I've been given this visa as I speak the language and my passport clearly states I was born in the Philippines. It's a natural assumption, I guess. Anyways, because of that, I need to go down to immigrations and get that amended so that the integrity of my mission, our representing Filipino council, and me is all upheld. Raising the bar, so to speak. It would be easy to let it slide and just take that stance of, "well, it was their mistake, so it's not my fault..." But just as my mom accidentally was not charged for an item she was buying and had to make that right, so do I have to make things right with my visa.

This leads to another issue of certifying documents from the US that they are real and true...which needs to be done in the US according to what I can tell. I need these documents in order to prove that I am a missionary and not a business person trying to operate on a non-profit visa. A Filipino-American friend knows of someone in immigrations who may be able to help me. Please pray that we can get all these issues resolved and figure out the best, legal way to get a missionary visa with the least amount of stress and frustration. And pray that my attitude would remain above reproach...that's always tricky when I'm tired, hot, and most likely waiting in uncomfortable chairs. :) I'm clinging to this verse: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Ps 19:14).

As far as happier news, I've met with three doctors over the last two days. All three are wonderful and have gone above and beyond with finding additional learning opportunities. I also spoke with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (ie breastfeeding expert) who is more than happy to work with me and train me. What an answer to prayer! Thank you, Lord!!

Lastly, the self-portrait above was taken on a pedestrian overpass on a busy highway. (Edsa for those familiar with the Manila). Incidentally, just to the right of the picture is the hospital where I was born! And no, I'm not THAT white! The flash went off and the picture is weirdly overexposed.