Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 27, 2011: Smiley Express - A Mission Under Threat

January 26 was plainly a veterinary civil action program, which literally meant vaccinating and treating cows, carabaos, goats and other farm animals of the locals. That left the medical team free to board the US Navy vessel and travel ahead to the next mission area which would be served the following day.

January 27 was the day of the Smiley Express Mission.

The team number was reduced after 3 days on the road, but, as usual, the number of patients grew.  We were blessed to still have with us the strong 73rd IB of Philippine Army, 11th Mechanized Company, 1002nd Brigade Military Ward and US Joint Special Operations Task Force Mindanao to cater to the growing number of patients.  Newly-elected honorable mayor Maulana of Palimbang accommodated the volunteers for the night. His hospitality was touching.  Apart from the tasty dinner and breakfast, he prepared a glorious display of fireworks to welcome the mission team!

Palimbang is a far-flung town in Sultan Kudarat, a 4-hour drive from General Santos City.  It lies just beyond the western border of Sarangani Province. It sits along the western coast of southern Mindanao, and is strategically positioned directly across Abu Sayyaf territories Basilan and Sulu, separated only by the beautiful waves of the Mindanao sea, where vessels of Abu Sayyaf militants and pirates freely roam.  The beautiful shores are mostly pristine and unexploited, as no tourist would bask in the largely unprotected coastline.

The municipality is the biggest in Sultan Kudarat, with 40 barangays. It is not readily accessible as constant armed conflict makes infrastructure development difficult to sustain. Because of inaccessiblity, health services are few and infrequent, so the locals are very keen and on the lookout for any free medical, dental, and minor surgical services.  
About 1,400 patients were registered for the day.

The medical team was composed of 1 local doctor from Municipality - Dr. Cruz; and 3 medics from US Army Joint Operations Special Task Force Mindanao (Civil Affairs Team and LCE) namely SSG Joshua Carroll, SSG Micha Van Wagner and SSG Edwin Torrescortes.
  The dental team was composed of Dr. Nelda Nisperos of ACIM Asia, Dr. Diono of Military Ward, and the Municipal Dentist.

The minor surgical team was composed of the 1002nd brigade military ward personnel who were assisted by 2 Filipino volunteer nurses.

The pharmacy team were made up of 1 Filipino nurse, 2  French volunteers from ACIM-Asia and 2 Filipino Auxiliary.

A security threat, particularly of abduction, clouded the mission with foreboding.  We could not ignore the security threat so we had to shorten the working time but we pressed on to serve as many patients as we could, working full speed to maximize time and resources.  Despite the short working time, we were able to serve 712 medical patients, 149 dental patients, 36 circumcision patients and 10 surgical patients (cyst removal).

Bravo to the brave team!  None but the brave can voluntarily serve with a smile on an ominous day! God have mercy on the locals.  May they know God and peace in their days.

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