For medical students at the University of Notre Dame, the Sydney Morning Herald Half-Marathon is not just about making it to the finish line – it's about making it to the Philippines.
Thirteen students are raising money for the university's biannual trip to assist the Calauan community in Laguna province, about three hours by road from Manila. For many of the students, it will be their first time in a third-world environment.
"You hear a lot about the poverty and what it's like … but being there is a completely different experience," says Dennis Nguyen, who travelled to the Philippines last year.
As many as 50,000 Calauan residents were moved there from the capital by the government, following the devastating floods caused by 2009's Typhoon Ketsana – the worst to hit Manila in 40 years.
But the relocation process was not easy. The already-impoverished municipality lacked infrastructure and jobs, and the displaced families were housed in concrete-block buildings that pre-dated World War II.
"There was no electricity, no water, no access to schooling, no shops, no work," says Charlotte Hespe, the university's head of general practice and leader of the Philippines project. "It was like being dropped in the middle of a rural field."
During their week in Calauan, the team will perform basic medical checks such as taking blood pressure, and educate people about nutrition, sexual health and communicable diseases. They will take histories, examine bodies and put together management plans for their patients. Last time they conducted about 180 eye examinations and provided 100 pairs of glasses.
"That was incredibly uplifting, seeing the joy on people's faces who could see again," Dr Hespe says.
Part of the challenge is adapting their medical advice to what is possible in Calauan. Skin conditions are prevalent in the community but showers are not. "You've got to think of other ways of dealing with those problems," says Alex Mullin, a second-year student who will return to Calauan this year.
The team is hoping to raise $25,000 from the Herald's 21-kilometre half-marathon. They have been training regularly but aren't relying on textbooks or medical shortcuts to get them across the line in good time.
"It's still difficult to sort through all the crap there is out there on how to train for running," Mr Mullin says.
"I think I'll be happy to be on two feet at the end," Mr Nguyen adds.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/smh-halfmarathon-medical-students-hit-the-ground-running-for-philippines-aid-20150414-1mkzkk#ixzz3lE76uBeh
From the 4th – 11th of July, twelve medical students had the opportunity to join Dr Charlotte Hespe on her biannual trip to the Philippines. The purpose of the trip was to provide healthcare to a displaced community in Calauan, Laguna. Dr Hespe began her aid to this community in 2010, and in five short years it has grown exponentially. Aside from providing medical care, the set-up now includes an eye clinic, a women’s health clinic, a feeding program for malnourished children and a dentistry clinic that includes preventative dental care. With these clinics being run both in July and November, the care aims to provide more than a band-aid solution to the health conditions suffered by community members. Furthermore, the community now has its own well-resourced pharmacy, staffed by a locally trained community member who can monitor long-term health conditions diagnosed on the visits.
In addition to having a significant impact on the lives of those in the Calauan community, we medical students were given the unique opportunity to synthesise our medical knowledge with our clinical skills in an environment that contained cultural and language barriers. The July trip was fortunate enough to have the assistance of MED1000 tutors Dr Milana Votrubec and Dr Seamus Duffy, who were available to oversee our patient consultations and teach us more hands-on knowledge than could ever be obtained in a classroom. Other valuable travel companions included members of Barney’s church, whose contribution in the success of these trips is essential.
After a phenomenal week of seeing everything from exotic skin rashes to major lacerations, the week ended on a great note, with the Philippines government extending their support to the program. This financial aid will allow the team to improve their resources, in the hope that future trips will be able to diagnose and treat major conditions that burden the community such as tuberculosis. With the continual support of both Barney’s and Notre Dame, the impact on the Calauan community can continue to grow.