Thursday, March 26, 2009

a community postscript.

I first set foot on Barangay 137 in San Roque, Pasay City, thinking I would find myself surrounded by a cacophony of howling dogs and stinking dog poo. After all, as BHW and Kagawad Ate Nene would have it, the matter has long been a pet peeve in the area. Many an irresponsible owner would reportedly hie off to work leaving their furry friends unattended to, randomly biting people and soiling the whole place.

It came as a surprise, therefore, when I found myself face-to-face with a lone goose – seeing the rest of its canine counterparts securely tethered inside houses. I eventually discovered that such was the result of a well-implemented Responsible Pet Ownership ordinance, which kept both the dogs and the rabies count at bay. Looking back, I realized it was quite a fitting eye-opener to the success story – or at least, one in the making – that is the health care system in Barangay 137, San Roque.

The place is nothing much extraordinary. Statistics spell your typical run-of-the-mill Filipino urban barangay: five main streets, 700 families, 500 houses, 2,900 residents, and a murky creek slicing through its boundary with adjacent Makati. The health center, decidedly devoid of ventilation sufficient to combat the sweltering summer heat, caters to at least 19 neighboring barangays, each competing with the others for its meager share of basic health care services. Hardly the case for a miracle?

It may be so, but the stuff of legends doesn’t stop with a few unattractive basics. Let’s say the legend took place in some area once mired in poverty, disease, and hopelessness. Let’s say that bit by bit, the place rose among the ranks of its fellow barangays to achieve an enviable status, owing to the firm resolve of its leaders and the staunch cooperation of its people. Let’s say the story ended with the people emerging victorious.

Our tête-à-tête with Brgy. Capt. Narciso Ramson on the first day could only provide so much enlightenment with regards to how this small locality, once a notorious hotspot for lawless elements under the guise of “Gamban Bukid”, courageously stood up to defy the challenges of the times, including that of a wanting, waning health system. What struck me further is the fact that throughout the entirety of the conversation, Capt. Ramson, who has thirty years of public service to his name, repeatedly gave credit to the efforts of the community – citing solid actions and exceptional willpower as the key to the eradication of crime and social upheaval, to the revitalization of the creek, and to the gradual alleviation of the barangay’s health woes.

It is exactly this proactive stance that caused me to ceaselessly marvel at the way things were run at the community. Besides Capt. Ramson, the energetic BHWs stand at the forefront as equally crucial catalysts in the barangay’s stalwart crusade towards fulfilling the tenets of primary health care, that seemingly intangible but indubitable goal of “health for all”. They leap to health matters with infectious enthusiasm, discussing plans and organizing projects. Ate Nene, for one, has been a BHW herself for decades and has simply seen it all – the incredible metamorphosis of the place from disease-prone cellar-dweller to topnotch example, many thanks to the unyielding efforts of the spirited BHWs.

The health programs of the barangay are commendable in themselves. Plastered across the health center walls are the various indicators and monitoring reports that give one an instant rundown of the area’s health status at a glance. From the maternal and child care activities, anti-TB and dengue prevention schemes, to the numerous healthy lifestyle programs and the thrice-weekly exercise program that has been going on for three years already, you have a barangay echoing its steady testament to the affirmation of health “not merely as the absence of sickness” but as a holistic totality of well-being.

Many times I was prompted to ask myself: How does one become a healer in a place that presently needs little, very minimal, healing? Therein lies the intrinsic dilemma. Don’t get me wrong, though; Barangay 137 is still your usual Filipino barangay. Now and then, you’d still see the typical scene of a lone tricycle speeding along one of its five narrow roads, belching thick smoke and clouds of dust, racing past children, animals, and houses to its intended destination. Nonetheless, two weeks of staying in the community and interacting with its constituents has taught me to see beyond mere externalities. The barangay’s heart and soul lies not in the houses, or in the creek, or in the modest communal health center. It will always be amongst its people – who have been and who will continue to be its greatest and most invaluable asset.

In the same way, I am led to think that healing, too, will always be about people: about forming new relationships, nurturing existing ones, and empowering everyone along the way. Indeed, five years of constant interaction and forming unshakeable bonds must have made UPCM an indispensable part of the community – which we deeply thank for raising the realm of our consciousness to heightened, more mature levels. Yet if there’s a gift greater and more liberating than knowledge, it’s learning how to let go. A chick must be ready to fly out of its mother’s nest once it has learned to feed on its own, to aim for the heavens, to soar to even greater heights. Leaving, of course, will be difficult. More especially for Barangay 137 – one of the very first UPCM pilot communities in Pasay, and now almost a finished, polished product.

But something tells me I’ll see Ate Nene and the BHWs recalling the numerous projects and ideas on their own, now fruitfully materialized into reality. Somewhere I know, they’ll have a heavy heart. But somewhere, too, I’m sure they’ll end up smiling.