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Gabriel Santos - Medicine in the Philippines

The Talisay District Hospital

In London it’s quite a challenge to find a placement in the medical field that allow students of my age, I’m 17 years old, to gain valuable work experience. Projects Abroad instantly interested me, with their placements, so I decided that I would like to spend my holiday being productive in the place where my parents came from. It was in the Philippines where I spent the entire six weeks of my summer vacation, four of which were spent in Cebu where my placement was situated, the other two weeks I spent with relatives in the capital city called Manila.

My Medical placement

My initial placement was at the Rural Health Centre (RHU), which was one of three in the city of Talisay. RHU provided basic health services, such as immunizations, natal delivery, consultation and basic check-ups. In these centers the quality of the health services is not the same as what is in London and the equipment is very basic too. It was there, on the very first day of my enrolment, where I witnessed a woman in labor, struggling to deliver and was then referred to a nearby hospital.

The doctors and staff were very willing to explain procedures and medical conditions to me. In the three weeks spent there I built very strong friendships with the staff and I was able to shadow them to learn about their work. I was therefore given the opportunity to get hands on experience. This included wound dressing, vaccinations, pre-natal check-ups and taking someone’s blood pressure.

The Medical project included outreach programs in remote areas, where there is no access to health centers, to immunize people. The two programs that I helped with were based in public schools (located high up in the mountains) where children would queue up to be vaccinated on a stage, in front of their peers.

Medicial placement

My second placement was in a hospital where the quality and scope of health care was more varied. I was restricted to mainly shadowing, though, as I didn’t have the certain qualifications required to participate in many of the procedures. Despite not being able to work with the patients I witnessed inspiring procedures, such as a couple of circumcisions, minor surgeries and even a successful delivery! All in all, I was exposed to the new environment and I received valuable experience that will be useful in my university applications.

My Filipino host family

I remember entering the front porch of my host family’s house and seeing very warm smiles. The family took great care of me and their hospitality was fantastic. Despite lacking in the luxuries of what the wealthier could afford, such as air conditioning and a warm shower, being in the house always felt like home. My host parents treated me as if I were their own child and the children were very easy to get on with. We bonded at meal time (when they always said grace), in the living room while in front of the TV and outside when they took me out to experience the culture of the Cebuanos. I regularly attended Sunday mass, which was quite different to western practices, and they guided me to shopping malls where the public would stare at me because of my western dress code.

To get from A to B I was taught how to take public transport, which I found enjoyable, compared to the underground we have in London. The Projects Abroad coordinators showed me how to use the “tricicol”, which was a motorbike attached to a side carriage that carried up to four passengers. The coordinators were helpful, accommodating, easy to communicate with, spoke excellent English and constantly wore a genuine smile.

Free time in the Philippines

Free time in the Philippines

With the hot climate and sun above our heads, the other two volunteers and I organized a trip to an island called Bohol. We originally planned to visit over the weekend only, but due to rough seas, our return ferry was cancelled, resulting in the extension of our stay in Bohol by one extra night! I travelled there with two beautiful girls from France and Luxembourg who gave me such brilliant company both in Bohol and back in the city of Talisay.

I enjoyed it so much there and I have to mention that it was the most fun that I had in ages. We toured the island, encountering the chocolate hills, the tarsier (the world’s smallest primate) and the butterfly sanctuary. The most exhilarating was when we rode a zipline and cable cart, which allowed us to see amazing sights. And what is a holiday without a beach? On the second day we relaxed by the Dumaluan seaside where the white sand and clear waters show off the beauty of the Philippines.

Back in Talisay, it was important that I spent my free time well so that I could avoid sitting on the couch all day. I found a nearby gym where I could go to burn the calories gained from all the food I consumed! Here the people were as friendly as the rest. I made friends easily with people in the RHU, the Hospital and even in Bohol – friends who I could keep in touch with on Facebook! I will never forget the good times spent with them.

Thank you, Projects Abroad

The day before I left Cebu, to visit my relatives in Manila, the two volunteers and I took part in a feeding program that was arranged by the Projects Abroad coordinator and manager. Here we played with the orphans using a few games we came up with beforehand and handed out some sweets afterwards. More importantly we filled up bowls with rice porridge and shared it amongst the orphans, which I particularly enjoyed because of how happy the children looked when they received their bowls. But knowing that we were helping the community made me happy and it reminded me of how malnourishment is a huge concern in provinces like these.

Staff at the RHU

On this journey I learned loads about the Filipino culture and I’ve learned to appreciate what we take for granted. More importantly I’ve learned more about myself, what I need to improve on and what is good about myself. The independence has definitely boosted my maturity and confidence. Yet most importantly, I achieved vast knowledge and skills from the experiences I had with Projects Abroad.

To be honest, I received more than I gave on this project and it was such a pleasure to experience what I know would help me for the future. I genuinely appreciate what Projects Abroad has provided and I have already started recommending it to other people in search of an adventure, telling them of my many enjoyable stories. As the American general MacArthur said when he landed on the shore of Cebu, “I shall return”.

Read more about Medicine in the Philippines

Gabriel Santos

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