Health workers continue to give over the holiday period

December 2013

While many people are celebrating Christmas and New Year holidays with their families and loved ones, a number of health workers from across the Philippines and other countries have selflessly given their holidays to ensure that health care is continuously provided to the communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan, locally called Yolanda.

Mr Rubens Santos, a nurse working for the Portuguese NGO Saude em Portuguese (Health in Portuguese) spent Christmas Day on a mobile clinic visit to Catbalogan, the capital of Samar province. His group works with local NGOs providing health care to pregnant women and those who recently delivered babies.

Mr Rubens Santos, a nurse working for the Portuguese NGO Saude em Portuguese spent Christmas Day on a mobile clinic visit to Catbalogan, Philippines
Saude em Portuguese

He said he could not imagine being anywhere else during the holidays. Although he has been involved in many humanitarian emergencies in his country, this is the first time he is working in another country.

In Tacloban, the city hardest hit by the typhoon, Dr Thorsten Flering, a medical doctor from Stutgaard, Germany is working with a German NGO called Humedica. He has 3 children aged 14, 9 and 6-years-old and says this is the first time he is spending Christmas away from his family.

"Whenever I talk on the phone, my youngest daughter cries and tells me to come home. I share my stories from here with her. I let her know how I am seeing small children here who have lost their homes and am trying to make them laugh the way I do with her. That makes her happy," he said.

Although this decision had been difficult in the beginning, Flering says he is very pleased that he is spending 3 weeks of his Christmas and New Year holidays in Tacloban serving the people affected by the typhoon.

His colleague, Dr Saskia Hankel says she was very touched to receive baked potatoes and chicken as a Christmas gift from the nuns of Mother of Mercy Hospital. She said it reminds her of mother’s cooking around the festive holiday season.

Hankel graduated as a medical doctor 2 weeks before her mission to Tacloban. She may be a new doctor, but is not a newcomer to the humanitarian world. In recent years, she worked as a pediatric nurse and has been on missions with Humedica in Pakistan, Haiti and many African countries.

Like Santos, Mr Song Yi, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Chinese Red Cross in Tacloban City said although he has been in several emergencies in his country, this is the first time he has been deployed to another country.

On Christmas Day he was organizing boxes of medicines and medical supplies. “I am committed to doing my best helping others. They very clearly need our help at this moment,” he said.

Ms Jayroselyn Amado, with the Philippines Red Cross says she sent her parents’ Christmas gifts with her brother and sister when they visited her several weeks ago. She said she has always spent Christmas with her family before, but is pleased to be on duty during these difficult times.

“It feels good to know that you are doing something to make a difference,” she said, adding that the people she meets are always very thankful for the support.

Amado is from the northern part of Tacloban. She and a few of her colleagues walked all day from her office in Western Samar 2 days after the typhoon hit.

Mr Jann Gil Gabriel, a nurse who volunteers for the Philippines Red Cross said he prefers to spend his holidays helping others. “I am quite happy to spend my holidays here, helping others. It makes me feel that I am doing something more relevant” he said. Gabriel said had he not been working, he would have been with his parents and 3 siblings.

In total, at least 55 foreign medical teams (FMTs) were operating in the typhoon affected areas as of 23 December 2013, most of them providing basic out-patient care.