Monthly Archives: January 2015

Re-intergrating into classroom-based education and western medicine


Generally speaking, it can be difficult to sit inside of a classroom, especially when classes are in two to three hour blocks, twice a week, for eighteen weeks. It can be even more difficult sitting inside a classroom when you know life is happening outside of those walls. Taking a course that is set in the field is an experience that every student should have at least once. Taking this course has not only taught be about this conflict in Mindanao, but it has evolved me into a better person that posses a better understanding the world, the conflicts people face and how they chose to fix them.

This class has taught me a lot about my own identity too. I rarely put myself into categories based on religion, race and socioeconomic status. Mindanao forced me to remember these things. This class shed light on my identity, how others see me and how I must present myself with that perceived identity in mind.

It’s important to learn from other healthcare systems and cultures that are subjected to those healthcare systems. I will be the first person to say that Western healthcare doesn’t solve every person’s problems. It is, however, the first form of healthcare that I’ve learned about and therefore is my frame of reference. I can say, however, that researching other healthcare systems has made a better healthcare provider as I can better understand different people, their cultures and how those factors and others directly affect their healthcare-related decisions. Ultimately, this experience will allow me to be a better person, student and patient advocate.

Bringing lessons learned in Mindanao to my hometown



     One of the NGOs that we worked with closely made it very clear that, as a Westerner coming in to aid in the resolution in a conflict, it is important to address the needs of the people that the NGO has declared they’re going to help. Of course this seems obvious, but sometimes external groups think that they’re advocating for the other, when really that’s not the case. Advocating for the other without consulting the other inadvertently silences the other. NGOs must work with and support the people closest to the conflict in order to best understand and provide solutions for the conflict.

While in Mindanao, it was interesting and inspiring to see so many organizations that were Mindanaoan born and lead. So many groups were working diligently with one goal in mind: peace. Moreover external or Western groups assisted as a support system or monetary contributor. I think this is an effective and important way to address the needs of the people in this conflict. IMG_3399

This concept has become a lesson that I’ve reflected on a lot lately. With my work and volunteer experience being predominately in medicine and health education, I look forward to taking these lessons and others home with me to be able to assist the underserved populations that exist in my home community. This method of conflict resolution can improve my ability to decrease health disparities that exist between the larger health institutions and underserved Mixteca population that exists within my own community. Speaking with advocacy groups and learning the needs of the Mixteca people can be the first steps in increasing their access to quality healthcare. This ideology has been transferred from what I’ve seen accomplished by local and international groups focusing their attending on the conflict in Mindanao.

With healthy mothers come a healthy future.

With healthy mothers come healthy children. With healthy children come a healthy future. One particular community we visited had been declared a zone of peace. Now that peace has been achieved for this community, they can have development that they much deserve.


Although it’s difficult for the Philippines to decrease the risks associated with maternal health, they’re working diligently to combat them. While in one geographically remote community, they expressed the problems that many of their expectant mothers face. The leader proudly declared that there are plans for a birthing center to be built in thei
r town. The current lack of a midwife or healthcare provider present at the birth further increases the mothers and child’s risk for death. By building a new birthing center in this community, the government is actively combating the country’s reputation for poor maternal health.

Many Filipinos take pride in their home communities, just like anyone would in our home communities. When the government listens to the concerns of its people and takes steps to continue to improve the communities of the people the overall moral of the community improves. Many of the people living in Mindanao have gone through so much trauma. They deserve to have access to adequate health infrastructure, among other things. Although many of these people are isolated from larger metropolises because of the remote geographical location and for this same reason have limited medical workers, at least the community can look forward to a healthy future. Hopefully a healthy and peaceful community focused on continuing development is a sign of sustaining peace!


Mindanao’s monopoly on miraculous morsels



Mindanao simply has a monopoly of delicious and exotic fruits. Nearly everyday we are surprised with a new one, courtesy of the input of the locals. Some days, while driving toward to a meeting or into a new municipality, our van will stop at a fruit stand. Some mornings we are greeting with the presents of multicolored and crazy shaped fruits; they look like something out of a Dr. Suess book!




Intimidating at first, these delicious treats require a little work before you get to enjoy the prize inside. Some require you to break hard shells, others to strip away peels. Inside lies a pearl. Much like in an oyster, you find white and delicate pearl-like treats that fill our mouth with fruitful bliss.

The succulent fruit illuminates your tastebuds; a new taste that cannot be experienced with the generic fruit produced in America. The fruits will leave you craving for more. I’ve even contemplated sneaking some seedlings though US Customs — just kidding. But it would be nice!

Reflections on peace as a culture

IMG_1440Attempting to be creative while typing is especially difficult as we zigzag through Army checkpoints and broken roads. In between sentences, I look out the window: rice fields, coconut trees and the happenings of people’s daily lives pass us by. I wonder how much pain and suffering this land has seen– it used to be a battleground. Although we are only getting a glimpse into of the lives of these people, I could’t be more grateful for this experience.

Peace is truly a culture in Mindanao. So many Mindanaoans work so hard everyday to keep peace. Peace means something different to everyone we ask. For some, peace grants physical and psychological safety, it lets people sleep at night, it gives people food on their table. I believe that peace is a human right that everyone deserves; no one should be able to take that away. Unfortunately people try, and sometimes successfully, to take away peace.

Today I felt like I truly had grown as a researcher. Although I was timid at first, I am becoming much more comfortable with interviewing people in both a group and individual basis. Today I spoke with a government official in Northern Mindanao for an extended period of time. Speaking to him individually allowed his comfort level to increase which gave me much more information to include in my work. I look forward to being able to continue to improve my skills throughout the remainder of the trip. I am privileged to be able to listen to the stories of the people that work so hard to obtain and maintain peace. I am even more privileged to be a part of the conduit in which these stories can be heard by others in the United States, and hopefully elsewhere too.

On the amount of food that can be consumed in eight minutes


Driving in a van for nine hours really allows for the group to get to know each other. Yes, that was optimistic. Compound upon that a lack of air conditioning. We really got to know each other well. We, thankfully, survived the long drive in one van without killing each other. On the way we managed to make plenty of stops and I was granted the opportunity to sit in the dinky pseudo-chairs for about three hours— hooray. We were relieved when we finally made it to our third hotel. We were given two hours to ourselves and the freedom to explore the city a bit. The city center created a forum that allowed for a religious assembly of Catholics to pay their respects to the Pope, that happens to be in the Philippines too.

We walked around the city center without a destination in mind. We were, however, hoping to find something with food as we really hadn’t had more than snacks that we found at the intermittent gas station stops.

We had look at menus in one restaurant and pictures at another, nothing was catching our attention. That’s when we found Roy’s. It initially caught our attention because of it’s neon-orange glow, we looked inside and it was packed full of people. We gave it a shot! The poor girl working at the cash register didn’t realize what she was getting into when she greeted us. She handled our hungry indecision well. IMG_4383

We walked upstairs to find another seating area completely packed with people. We managed to pull together enough chairs and tables to accommodate our group of five. In what felt like no time at all (lately we’ve been used to waiting for over an hour for our group of 15 to be served our meal) our food was ready!

Eight minutes; eight minutes is all it took for five Americans to abolish that meal. It was delicious! We were pleasantly surprised!

We, thanks to our expeditious eating habits, had more than enough time to stop at a convenience store and make our nightly meeting with the Professor.

Adjusting to life in Monterey after Mindanao



I find myself reflecting on my experience in Mindanao and how everything we’ve learned about governance, development and peace are applicable in the classes that I am taking now. I find that I am using the interviewing, listening and critical thinking skills that I developed as a researcher in my classes too.

It is important to ask questions and continue to dig beneath the surface in order to get the answers I need. I find that in many cases my classes are simply touching the surfaces of many topics; furthermore, there are reasons and incentives as to why only one topic or another is selected for conversation while others may be overlooked. It is important to always be thinking critically and to analyze everything, whether I am reading a text or listening to a lecture.

The conflict in Mindanao is still very much present. Following our arrival in California, my attention was drawn to several news articles reflecting on a recent massacre that had occurred at a location that we had visited to. We are privileged to have been able to travel to Mindanao, learn about the conflict and the lives that are directly affected by it, and then to be able to return to our home university and continue our education in whichever way we decide.

Many of my friends ask me about my trip and I try to explain to them what we had learned and experienced. My Filipino friends and family had taken the most interest and what I had to say especially because of one moved from Manila to California when he was a child. His eyes lit up when we discussed the Philippines. He loves the Philippines, it’s his home. It’s my responsibility to represent this project, my knowledge and experiences of this country well. I look forward to continuing this project through this semester.

Adventures in the Mindanao comfort rooms


Using the bathroom, or comfort room (CR), in the Philippines is always an adventure. I truly began to look forward to experiencing and documenting the different kinds of bathrooms I would encounter in different barangays and government buildings. Every single CR is unique and yet all of them are clear representations of the socioeconomic status of the community and priority of sanitation in that particular area. Just like in the West, the more rural the bathroom the bigger the adventure.

CRs are generally the same size of single Western bathrooms, perhaps slightly smaller. In a corner lives a bowl, sometimes elevated and other times not. Close to the bowl sits a large basin filled with water. Over the basin is a spout with water dripping from it. Inside the bowl floats a large and plastic ladle. The room is simple yet meets all basic needs.

The system I first developed was to quickly get the job done without touching anything. I would use the TP that I brought in my purse and immediately soak my hands in alcohol hand sanitizer. It wasn’t clear to me at first what the large water basin was for. It took some practice and advice from others to figure out what to do with it.

I started to notice a reoccurring presence of these basins in bathrooms; somehow it was supposed to be a part of the elimination process. The water basin was something unique to the Philippines, at least as compared to other countries I have traveled to. Finally, after conversation with the other girls, I realized that it is the mechanism in which I am supposed to flush. How did I miss that? I finally got into the habit of using the ladle to back fill the bowl with clean water after use.

Although without indoor plumbing, this system of filling the bowl with a separate water source completely works. After the business in the bathroom has been done, whether in a Western bathroom or the CRs I used in Mindanao, I am still touching the same amount of surfaces. Yes, there is a skill that needs to be developed in Mindanao to decrease the instances of backsplash from the bowl, but otherwise, as long as I had the ability to wash my hands afterwards, I was satisfied.


Thunderstorms as shower heads


We walk into our hotel room. We have two full beds, a large and luxurious shower head and a Western-style toilet. It’s a very comfortable and suitable room for the next two nights. The lack of wifi in the room is really frustrating, however. My roommate and I walk toward the window, wondering what kind of view that we get to enjoy. We open the light brown curtain and we see tin roofs— intermittently rusted and discolored tin roofs.Growing in between the tin roofs are large and luscious green foliage and trees. A mountain range creates a border in the distance. The sun is setting. The multi-colored pastel sky cannot be captured in a picture. We are so lucky to be here. We look to the left. There is a four-story concrete building that appears to be under construction. Sitting at the bottom of the job site is a security guard with a rifle. We see various shirtless men looking in our direction; we’re looking in theirs. We continue to look at the partially built structure. Through holes that must be functioning as windows, we see a woman hanging laundry. We wondered if we were still looking at a construction site. People were living there. We continued to look in other holes; some people were putting on clothes, others were lounging. That partially built structure is their home.

The next morning we woke up to a louder than normal air conditioning system. I look out the window, as I usually do in the morning, to find what I thought was a loud air conditioner was actually the sound of pouring down rain onto the tin roofs. The partially built building, with it’s pseudo-windows, must be getting soaked inside. There is nothing separating the inside of the building and the outside environment. A man stool outside of the crumbling structure. He had a bucket with him. He was lathering his hair with shampoo. He was showering in the pouring the rain.

Moments like this are what puts my life into perspective. As a student in Monterey, I have the privilege to learn about other people’s lives before returning to mine. It makes it clear that I have a responsibility to convey these stories of Mindanao in the most accurate way possible. It reminds me that when I go back to Santa Cruz to work that I have to keep in mind that different people have different experiences that I will never be able to understand and thus I have a responsibility to show everyone I encounter with the upmost respect. I look forward to continuing to work with underserved populations, populations that may have been forced to use a thunderstorm as a shower head. Although this experience is nothing I will be able to understand or encounter personally, through this experience in Mindanao, I have developed a greater respect for those that have.

We’re (cough) not in Mindanao anymore (cough).


On our layover in Guangzhou, China:

Cigarette smoke penetrated the carpeting and seats of the van. I dreaded the thought of whether or not the hotel we were traveling to is a reflection of the van we took to get there.

I started to think back to Mindanao. Regardless of the stage of development, there were still very strict ordinances against smoking. I cannot recall a vehicle or building that we went into that smelled like cigarettes. The roads in the cities and rural areas were flooded with anti-smoking propaganda. How is it that such a developed country like China would condone smoking, especially inside a public vehicle? I opened the passenger window. The outside air was crisp and fresh. I awaited our arrival to our hotel.

As we continued our drive I admired the beautiful Chinese characters that graced road signs and vehicle doors. This is the first time I’ve been in a communist country. Will their government structure be immediately noticeable? As an American, I’ve been trained to look down upon Communism, to fight it. But I wonder what it is actually like. I would be interested to stay in China for an extended period of time to better understand their culture, government and their social sensors. Tonight will hopefully provide a taste.

Speaking of taste, I look forward to tracking down some authentic Chinese food. I understand that what Americans consider Chinese food really isn’t authentic Chinese food. Moreover, when marketing that good type, the Chinese refer to jt as “American-Chinese food.” Whatever it is, I hope it’s good!

Most of the passengers have shut their windows in the van as it is much colder now than before. We’ve been driving for about twenty minutes. The closed windows allow for the smell of smoke to refill our nares; It’s quite unpleasant. I return to my thoughts.IMG_4433

It blows my mind when I remind myself that I’m in a country that I’ve only read about in articles or analyzed in class. This coming semester I will be taking global political economy, a subject in which I know China is a big player. I’m looking forward to it.

We have easily been on the road for thirty minutes. Why would the airline chose a hotel so far away from the airport? The cigarette smell hasn’t subsided. I’m starting to feel nauseous.

Well, I immediately upon arriving at the hotel I realize why we drove so far. It’s a lavish skyscraper. A hotel I could probably never afford. The van stops in front of the luxurious skyscraper. I miss the cigarette-smoke-free air  and modest accommodations of Mindanao.