We were so honored to join our friends and partners in Davao, Philippines this past month. Although we’ve been working hard and have stayed in close contact with our partners, this is the first time in 3 years that we’ve been able to be back on Filipino soil! This time, we took a team from Biola University with us. Six students and another professor joined us as we continue to work on improving health outcomes in this region.
On this trip, we were able to visit with different barangay officials and get to talk and interact with medical students. It was so great for our students to hear the perspectives of international students and share a common bond in their desire to improve health globally.
Three of our graduate student interns and Dr. Walker were able to present at Assumption College. They shared about the science of gratitude and other health behavior theories, which was a great encouragement to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year social work students.
We were amazed at the passion of the local students and how engaged they were with their communities. They recognized that their program was not just a degree but they viewed it as a life calling. Can you believe that the 4th year students spend 1,000 hours in internship placements living and working in an assigned community? What a great opportunity this was for us to give and receive so much.
Dr. Walker, Professor Altimirano, and one of our students were able to meet at the DOH with the Assistant Health Director and talk about next steps on publishing and writing grants for the work we’re collaborating on to improve HIV testing and care. We were also able to visit the lab where HIV confirmatory tests are processed and analyzed. This lab equipment is a new development since our last trip. Having a confirmatory lab in Davao (where specimens don't have to be shipped up north) greatly speeds up the process on test results and the ability to link people to care sooner. We are so grateful for the work the team there is doing.
We did several site visits to different communities we serve, including the Bajao tribe (one of the main tribes our partners work with). We were so encouraged to see progress that is being made and amazed at the zeal and determination of our partners. In this picture you can see 3 new public toilets that were constructed to serve a village that does not have water or electricity. In a community with no plumbing, this is a major step in improving sanitation and creating a healthier environment! We noticed so many improvements to celebrate!
We also saw a major milestone on a new law passed this year abolishing child marriage! Charlyn, a social worker, and our main partner, has been working tirelessly on tackling this issue. In fact, her masters thesis was focused on the evaluation of child marriage in the Bajao community. This is a common tribal practice and something that is detrimental to the health of women as it keeps them from receiving education, increases a number of health risks, and creates a barrier to enter the workforce.
Child marriage also puts the girls developing bodies at risk from pregnancies at a young age and additional complications that arise. This law being passed is a major step in drastically improving health outcomes, but we know there is much work to do. Our partners are now in the communities educating people and leaders.
We feel so proud of Charlyn, her husband Gaddiel and the team at FCCDI. They are taking a hammer to injustices and cycles of poverty and are improving health outcomes in their community. What a privilege it is to link arms together and push back on the barriers that are holding people back from thriving.
Now that we are back home, the behind the scenes work continues. We have research teams of graduate student interns and professors working on submitting grant applications to help fund many of these community projects for the next 5-years. Our research teams are also analyzing public health data related to HIV. Two manuscripts are being drafted to publish lessons learned from the international training collaboration and data analysis. We will co-author with our team, community leaders, and the Philippines Department of Public Health. We look forward to all that is to come in this region of the world!