As with every month since we started working in the Philippines, December was another very busy month for Ugat ng Kalusugan!
I started off the month with 3 days of back to back to back meetings in Manila with other organizations focused on maternal and child health and reproductive health. The people I met with were incredibly helpful and I am so thankful for their generosity in sharing their time and best approaches and practices with me. I really learned a lot and left the meetings eager to return to Palawan and use some of the wise advice I’d been given. Reflecting on the meetings made me feel so thankful for how supportive the nonprofit and NGO community has been here in the Philippines. Everyone we have met with has been so happy to help us and Roots of Health / Ugat ng Kalusugan is benefiting and will continue to benefit greatly from all of these relationships.
Back in Palawan, Susan, Marcus and Lyn Lyn were busy preparing for our end of year Christmas party in Pulang Lupa and when I returned I helped organize our activities as well. Christmas is a very big deal in the Philippines, and we had decided in late November that though we wouldn’t be able to begin our educational outreach activities before January 2010, that we could at least have one session to formally launch our activities in the community before we closed for the Christmas holidays. We decided to have a short program for the women and children in Pulang Lupa. We planned to gather all the women in one area and introduce ourselves and our work more formally and give them an update on what we would begin doing in January. We decided to have a few games related to our work, serve a simple merienda (snack) and give each woman a small gift of food/groceries for her household. We decided to have a brief program for the kids as well and planned to have games and stories with the little ones in a nearby area, serve them a merienda, and give each child a toy that we had purchased. We tried to guesstimate how many people would attend and decided that probably around 50 women and 130 children would attend. We planned for that many number of gifts and rounded up a bit for food. We knew that the party was probably going to be a bit chaotic but we also believed that it would be fun and we hoped to have a good number of women in attendance.
The Christmas Party
On December 11, party day, we showed up in Pulang Lupa 40 minutes before our start time, fully expecting that we would need time to start rounding up some of the women and children. We had planned to start our activities when we had about 40 kids and about 20 moms in attendance. We were surprised upon arriving to see that a small group of children had already gathered. Within 15 minutes, there were about 50 kids waiting and a few minutes before our scheduled start time, there were more than 100 participants patiently waiting. Some of the moms and kids did come a bit late, but we had nearly all our participants ready and waiting at our scheduled start time. There were so many people! We estimate that there were about 150 kids and about 60 women all together. In addition, there were about 10 men from the community – fathers and husbands – who came to join in our programming as well. The extra numbers made things a little bit more hectic, but we were so pleased that we had such a high turnout, and we were happy that everyone, including the men, had decided to come out. We were thankful for the extra food we had brought because it allowed us to also give the men a small merienda. Not all of the women got a bag of groceries, but all households did get a bag of food (some households had more than one woman in attendance.) And we had candy that we gifted the extra kids with. So in terms of supplies, it all went fine.
Susan and Lyn Lyn and I handled the program for the women, and it all went better than we could have hoped for. All the women in our group were cheerful and excited to participate and were interested to learn more about our planned programming for January. Before we began we asked the women to write their names on nametags, and we called on each individual by name. We think they really appreciated this, and it was helpful to us to place more faces with names as we hope to know every member of the community on a first name basis before too long. The games and activities we’d planned all had something to do with reproductive health and we were pleasantly surprised to see the women really engage and really get into the games and discussions. We don’t think that they have very many chances to talk about their lives and their thoughts and ideas, and it was fantastic to see how much they enjoyed participating in our activities. The men were mostly on the periphery, just listening, but I think they are also happy to know more about our plans, and they enjoyed listening to the women and watching them engage. My dad, Oscar, also came to the party and he stood with the menfolk and chatted with them quite a bit. We don’t yet have programming for the men in the community but we are very glad that they came and now know more about what we are doing as we think this will make it easier for the women to come to our sessions without eliciting any suspicion from their husbands about what we might be teaching them.
We knew going into the Christmas party that the kids would be a bigger and wilder group so we recruited some extra help for Marcus and were so thankful for the help that Jane, Evetha, Gonie, Jennie, Jong and Jen lent us. Marcus and his team entertained the kids with games and songs and Evetha, who is an amazing story teller, told the children a few stories. It was a huge group but they managed to keep everyone engaged and entertained. Distributing the toys was the only portion of the afternoon that did not go as smoothly as other parts because of the extreme enthusiasm and excitement from the kids, but even that didn’t go too badly. In the end all the kids went home happy and were all very appreciative of their new friends and new toys.
After we cleaned up we piled into our cars and went home exhausted, but really thrilled with how well the afternoon went, and really excited about starting our programs there in January.
On December 14th Susan and I held a Board Meeting with our New York and Vermont based Board of Directors. Unfortunately Susan and I could not attend in person, but technology allowed us to participate in the meeting via phone. Our Board of Directors is comprised of intelligent and enthusiastic women and we had some great discussions about the work we’ve already done and our work ahead. One Board member, Suneeta, has already visited us in Palawan and we hope that in 2010 the rest of the members of the Board will be able to come to Palawan to see our work firsthand as well.
During the last week of work in 2009, we focused on organizing our materials and workshops so that we can hit the ground running in January 2010. Within the first few weeks of January we plan to test some of our workshops and activities with students at Palawan State University, start the programming for women in Pulang Lupa, and begin the nutritional support program for undernourished children in the community. We are so excited to begin our programming and for all that lies ahead in 2010.
All of us at Roots of Health / Ugat ng Kalusugan would like to thank you for your support and enthusiasm for our work since we started in August, and we look forward to your continued support and interest in 2010. We wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and send our best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.