COVID-19 is a Great Equalizer

I left the Philippines when the new virus started to affect Wuhan. That was the first of February. I went prepared, even brought with me masks and hand sanitiser. It was the only time I spent over 3 hours waiting for my flight. Then, I arrived in Uganda not having to get myself checked or quarantined, like it is now. I only have to show the usual yellow card to let the officers at the airport know I am vaccinated with yellow fever and I’m good to go.

Two months since, I am self quarantined in my little house up in West Nile after I was told I am a PUM – person under monitoring. 

I left KAMPALA just in time for the government declaration of national lock down, even private vehicles are not anymore allowed in the streets.  But I was there in Kampala when the first case was confirmed. The same day most expats with families are able to leave to go home fearing the worst being here. I got exposed from one of those under 20 people despedida, thanks to the many meetings we do trying to anticipate the arrival of the virus at Uganda doorstep. 

With the national lockdown, my organisation  has to stop our field intervention in the refugee settlement. Myself being in quarantine is relegated to work-from-home and had to endure Skype meetings to get something done for our projects.

Social distancing is already hard, being self-quarantined is harder. I don’t envy those with families with them, especially young kids. The same time the office has output expectations while on it.  But hey, I am not complaining, just stating facts!

The virus is a great equalizer; it is a serious business. If we don’t follow all the precautionary measures we put many peoples life at stake, and to be in charge of getting guidelines for our intervention in the failed, I have to set an example for all.

Stay safe everyone.

Traveling for Work

Its Sunday in the Philippines, and I am halfway to my final destination in Entebbe.

The seven weeks holiday is finally coming to an end and will soon be going back to humanitarian work.

Many, if not all, of my friends except of course those I knew from expatriations do not understand what I do. I mentioned that to Yaya Sabel and said: “she thinks she knows what I do but don’t understand.”

She is not alone.

Even my dad was clueless and only realized what I’ve been doing overseas when I shared with him the information I need to share with family in case something happens to me. That was five years ago.

Many people, when they see you travel for work, the first impression would be to work as domestic help or DH. Many Filipino and other countries like Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, and India have people leave home to work as domestic regardless of background to support their families back home.

But I learned a long time ago also that there are skilled workers like my dad was when he worked in Saudi Arabia for 23 years.

Then with all my travels, I met a lot of Filipino working in hospitality, including those in the duty-free shops in small and big airports. Health workers, and of course, there’s a bunch of us working in the field of humanitarian and development in countries with varying security levels.

Working for the vulnerable

Such a big word, vulnerable. I learned that word over time. It was not in my vocabulary when I joined the diaspora in 2000.

All I have was technical medical and rehabilitation words and management jargon.

I am not the kind that goes on the ground when an emergency happens.

I am more the second wave humanitarian worker. I do mostly recovery, rehabilitation, and transition together with many colleagues with different expertise.

The kind of work I do allows me to see a different perspective in life after an emergency. It’s completely different from the kind of life most overseas workers have when I meet them in countries that has labor relations with the Philippines.

There’s no monotony in the kind of work I do, but I meet the same types of people you meet when working and traveling overseas – the good, the bad, the ugly, and a mix.

So what exactly do I do?

In the world of technical support and coordination (my big words job title), what I do is to make sure the project and people are aligned to objectives that have been agreed on when the project was designed. This happens when the emergency settles, and security is restored, or sometimes it can arrive at the same time.

I join the team to ensure we are within acceptable standards locally and internationally to the limits of my specialty and practicality. Which often is overlooked when responding to emergencies.

It may mean I train people, and I check their work as we implement projects, at the same time, prepare for the materials and links that can help them remotely. Since we take care of people’s wellbeing, I have to be very clear, and no misunderstanding or my ass is on the line.

It may also mean I handle transitional work or I read and review documents which require more time and brain cells to do than actual fieldwork if you get my drift 😉

From time to time, I share snippets of my work and some photo of the people and places I’ve been. But I try to be careful too and not overshare. As we sometimes deal with sensitive issues or simply exercising better judgment. There’s a better platform for it if one is keen to find out.

So as I wait for my connecting flight to Entebbe, I sit here in Doha people watching, composing this article, and drinking my first cup of coffee for the day.

Talk soon in East Africa!

Is It August Yet?

I can’t wait to be August. Soon it will be August, and my future will be bright.

Do you know how many drafts I have in my box? I think i have at least 7 that I never finished writing, either I lost the thought or I got distracted that I cannot go back to it unless I get the inspiration again. 

So for this, I intend to finish this one. 

You ask … why August?

Well, that would be the time I will finally get my final reading glasses grade so I can read properly. Right now I am struggling to concentrate on looking at the computer screen or my phone, even reading magazines and newspaper becoming tiresome. And today I am starting to feel dizzy when doing those wearing my old glasses because I have nothing else to wear. And if I don’t use it, I will end up watching a lot of TVs.

Eyewear
The glasses that don’t fit …

In August, I will stop using a progressive type of eyeglasses. My new lenses made that possible, but I will still need to use reading glasses.

I had the option to do that – I mean to not use either distance or reading glasses but my insurance didn’t cover that type of surgery so I opted for the one that I can afford.  At least I can still wear stylish and colorful eyewear as a consolation.

***

A lot of us take things for granted until it’s too late, I know because that’s how it was for me. Read this Do Not Wait Too Long

Although it was not too late, I still took my eye problem in stride only to realize that I could have had it corrected in 15 minutes (yeah true read this Windows to the Soul) over the weekend and return to work after a week. But I didn’t do that then, and if I say I regret it, I would say yes.

When my vision started to falter, I guess subconsciously I decided to stop going out at night alone. I would rather stay in on a Friday night and binge on music videos or my favorite series because I was afraid I would get an accident. Turkish driver is barbaric when it comes to driving, and they will not make it easy for you to feel safe even on the sidewalk.

But consciously I was in denial, I pretended I am just lazy, or I am saving my money, telling my bf that it’s cheaper to stay in and buy the wine we like. He bought it, never complained and then I moved out to Tunisia.

In Tunisia, walking around was never a problem. During the day I was glued to my computer, I work from home, and the house itself has good lighting, so I was not bothered that only one eye was actually doing the work for me. My stairs are well lighted, and when I venture outside, I was not afraid because the area where I lived has low traffic and sometimes I can even walk in the middle of the streets plus streets are almost well lit.

Then the inevitable happened and further delayed my surgery until late June, and now I have to endure using my old reading glasses until the lens finally reached its maximum adjustment and will not affect when I finally get prescribed my new spectacles.

That is why I am so looking forward to early August to finally get that final grade and start reading without eye strain and headache.

***

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Key To Happiness In Your Job Is To Work With Passion

June had crept in, announcing that it was mid-way through 2018. Eventually, I will have to go back to my reality of doing what I love. But I am still trying to figure out what I will do after this accident.

I am praying to God that he shows me where I am supposed to be and what I should be doing next. And when that is revealed, I hope I will be ready to accept and take on the challenge.

For now, I hope you enjoy to read how I felt about my life as a humanitarian worker while I was recovering from my injuries.

My Decade Long Travels

I’m officially jobless and at the moment disabled. So you can say I have time on my hands, so I am going to update my blog site.

Actually, I still have work to finish from my last mission, but I am happy to finally break-free from the so-called “cursed” mission and will start fresh as a consultant. I am not at liberty to talk about the mission itself (this being a public platform) nor of the people I worked with. But the reason some of us called it a cursed mission was because of the stings of misfortune it had during the year and of course my unfortunate accident in the place that I had misgivings to move from the moment it was offered to me.

In fact, the moved to Tunisia made me realized how badly my position and myself was disregarded but I forged ahead because more than…

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Gabriel and His Wheelchair

I did something of my time last Friday. I went out and met (again) the community I wanted to give some of the wheelchairs I sourced from an organization in Australia and I went to visit Gab and had someone with me to check him and his wheelchair two years after we gave it to him.

(Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2018)
I am with a colleague adjusting Gab’s chair. On my feet half the time … I was tired but went home happy! (Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2018)

Gab is 8 years old last Thursday. I met him in 2014 together with his mom when I joined the local disabled people’s organization in my city. I offered my skills to help but my work does not allow me to fully commit to it. His mom and I continue to communicate. She contacts me when she has questions about Gabs condition and for some other pieces of advice.

He was born with cerebral palsy. He has spasticity on all of his extremities and he has difficulty to communicate. All his 8 years have been supported by therapy whenever money and professionals are available but he still cannot walk but he loves to be around people. So a wheelchair would be very good to have for him to be mobile and social and wheelchair he got two years ago!

(Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2018)
Gab and his chair of 2 years were recently adjusted. He’s happy to fit well in his chair and to be outside (Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2018)

When he was 6-years old, I managed to get ten wheelchairs I was hoping to give to children like Gab. At that age, his parents are already complaining that it’s becoming difficult to move him around and the DIY chairs they built him doesn’t offer much support.

He is lucky because his family makes time for him, you can feel a happy family around him when you visit, they seek help and save up for some therapy, while other children have no opportunity to access health and rehabilitation services, no caregivers and often no knowledge of their human rights. I saw many with deformities that cannot be improved anymore, let alone sit in the chair. Some, there’s hope if parents can be given the training on how to manage their child’s conditions if they cannot afford therapy and transport.

(Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2015)
Immediately after he received a new chair, Gab was able to participate in different activities for children with disabilities that summer. (Dhidhak Collection / Philippines 2015)

What has changed?

When I met Gab, he was smaller. My colleague who made most of the technical adjustment had to adjust his seat depth and more to accommodate his long legs. I also noticed how talkative he has become, although he was talkative then, this time I can understand them more and being able to carry more conversation with the small vocabulary he has. But he also has a shorter temper, which I think was because of the weather (summer temperature reached 35C that day) and being cooped in the house instead of going to the park.

Gab even has his own facebook page!

He follows instructions better. When we asked him to sit straight and put his neck straight, he can do it. He has better trunk control, I guess the time he can have the straight posture would determine his progress together with other activities. With the table attached to the chair, he interacts more with the people around the house, increasing his ability to use his hands. Feeding too has improved, and I noticed no drooling compared to the first times I met him. He will need continuous therapy, but I am happy with what I saw.

I even saw photos of him playing badminton with his siblings and had gone swimming with the family this summer.

What’s next for Gab and for the remaining chairs?

Experts say he needs to be re-evaluated together with his wheelchair. A 3-wheel type chairs that have hip, trunk and head control (depending on the design). The Wheelchair For Kids, Inc. produces these type of wheelchair. The organization is made up of a group of retired volunteer members of the Perth metropolitan community in Western Australia, and they donate these type of chair all over the world.

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Gab is featured in WFK website collage and see how small he was back in 2014 (Screen grabbed from WFK website)

I don’t exactly remember how I got to know WFK, but I remember it was during the time I was in East Timor. Later, when I returned home, I contacted WFK, Inc. and inquired whether they have links with a local organization here in the Philippines where I could get access to their wheelchairs and distribute to the children in San Pedro City.

No, they don’t have specific local partners in the Philippines, but they have better links – the RSL Angeles City, a sub-branch of Returned and Services League of Australia. They send wheelchairs to them and distribute them to children in Angeles City and neighboring province (which is in the north part of the Philippines). They suggested I contact them and request the 10 chairs I was asking them.

I made contact with RSL, after some negotiations, they agreed, and I picked up the chairs. Unfortunately, I only managed to give out 1 out of 10 chairs. For many reasons but one of them was me being called off to join an emergency mission in Nepal. Partly I am to blame for the delay, but I have a pretty good excuse why the delay but don’t worry, I already arranged with someone with technical knowledge on the wheelchair and good network in the disability sector, we hope to give out those chairs in the next three months.

This time, being ambulatory, I tried to revive the project and give the remaining 9 chairs to the rightful owners. I made contact again with experts in the field, and with their help, I would be able to reach out to those kids that could use this type of chair for their everyday lives.

So I ended the day tired, with a swollen ankle but went home happy. The feeling of not being able to do anything worthwhile had faded over the weekend knowing that I will have something to look forward to in the coming days. For now, I will focus on Gab and see how much more we can still improve his chair and until when we can keep him using them until we need to find him a new one.

Postscript:

If you want to know more about disability and how you can help get children appropriate wheelchair send me a message here! Thank you in advance.