Saturday, April 14, 2007

PANAWAGAN: Be a Foster Parent to PAL's Pinoy Medical Mission Beneficiaries in Southern California

Filipinos have a saying "Bawal magkasakit. [We can't afford to get sick.]" A serious illness in the family usually spells doom in the Philippines. There are no medical personnel or facilities at all in about 300 Filipino towns and the rest are mostly ill-equipped and under-staffed.

The elusive dream of having one doctor for every 20,000 Filipinos seems ridiculous by American standards until you realize that there are 88 million FIlipinos living in a country about as large as the state of Kansas, and that 25 million Filipino families get by on $2 or less a day. Not surprisingly, one out of three infants and pre-schoolers is malnourished and many still die of simple respiratory infections or water-borne diseases. Filipinos who make it to the hospitals of major cities like Manila or Cebu must still pay for all their medical supplies and tests. If they are from the remote barrios, living expenses outside the hospital are another obstacle to getting medical care.

This is why the Philippine Airlines(PAL) Foundation has PAL Medical Travel Grants (; to help indigent Pinoys to access quality medical care as charity patients.

Mending Kids International (MKI) ( is one of the charities that helps PAL Medical Travel Grantees. Through MKI, indigent Filipino children (0 to 18 years old) get free care for serious but correctable medical conditions at UCLA, Cedars Sinai, Shriners Burn Institute and the L.A. Children's Hospital. Often, these children go back to the Philippines with healed bodies and brighter futures too. Take the case of little CJ, born with a hole in his heart, and the youngest of five children of a Cebu factory worker making $6 a day. His parents' meager earnings could not keep up with CJ's hospital bills. He was malnourished and had been hospitalized for pneumonia eight times before he was a year old. CJ's eldest brother even had to quit school. Doctors in Cebu said it would cost at least US$25,000 or over a million pesos to fix CJ's heart. Little CJ from Cebu weighed just 10 lbs at age one. He only began walking and talking after he had free open heart surgery atUCLA.

One of the PAL Foundation's benefactors, Dr. Arlene Roque Kamen took a special interest in CJ's case. PAL shipped for free from L.A. to Cebu, Dr.Kamen's donations of special high calorie infant formula and medical supplies, for CJ (as well as for other PAL Foundation beneficiaries). She even paid for CJ's visa and other travel documents. A PAL Medical TravelGrant brought CJ to Southern California so he could have free open heart surgery at UCLA. MKI volunteers helped send back 6 balikbayan boxes of household effects, toys and clothes for CJ's family. They have committed to put electricity in CJ's remote island home when he returns this March. The PAL Foundation and Mending Kids could bring over many more indigent Filipino medical missions children, from infants to 18 y.o. adolescents (mostly for heart surgery like CJ). But before we do this, the children must have hands-on host families in Southern California. MKI hosting is purely voluntary with the child staying an average of one to two months, so many host families do become emotionally attached.

As MKI Director andFounder Cristie Kae Embleton says: "You take a child into your home to mend his heart, but he will break yours when he goes back home to thePhilippines." Still you will have the immeasurable satisfaction of having helped another human being to find healing and a better life. There are great emotional rewards as well as material responsibilities to being an MKI host family. For starters, the adults must get current criminal clearances. The MKI social worker will do a family home study and later on, supervise the child's stay.

Because these are medical missions children, the primary caregiver in the host family must know how to administer First Aid and CPR. The host must also be available to drive the child to doctor's appointments. There is no age limit to being an MKI Host and able seniors or retirees are especially welcome to open their hearts and their homes to our Filipino children in need of special attention.

Fil-Americans who want to help but just don't have the time because they work 9 to 5, can also serve as "RESPITE HOST FAMILIES." They don't host the child full-time but may be called on to pinch hit for a day or a weekend, in case something comes up. They may also want to treat the host family to a Filipino meal, or take the time to make the child pasyal , or donate toys, clothing, or phone cards so the child can call home.Please call or email Mending Kids:

661.288.1957; to find out more about reaching out to our littlest kababayan. Mabuhay at maraming salamat po!.

Ma. Carmen "Menchu" Aquino Sarmiento
Executive DirectorPhilippine Airlines (PAL) Foundation
Gate 1, PAL Maintenance Base Complex
Andrews Avenue, Nichols, Pasay City 1309

Phone: (632) 851-2980;
(632) 855-8000 extension 2563
Fax: (632) 852-6096

Friday, April 13, 2007

Global Standards?

I guess by now every fast-food worshipper in Dumaguete and thereabouts has visited McDo at least once. My family and friends are no exception. We braved the long lines on the 2nd day, grumbled pleasantly over the long wait, then triumphantly carried our trays away after what seemed like an eternity.

Staying true to her role as “food introducer”, my friend Chedette urged me to try her daughter Carla’s McChicken, swearing nothing could taste greater than this heavenly concoction of bread, chicken and lettuce … and she was right! I got hooked right away.

Lately, I finally managed to persuade my husband that I desperately needed another McDo fix. My ecstatic grin probably stretched from ear to ear as we approached Dumaguete’s latest landmark. Of course, you guessed it right guys! I ordered the McChicken and dove right into it!

But this column today is not really about McChicken. This is about a sudden thought that came up as I waited for Abby to finish her chicken meal (this was after I gobbled up my burger and was left with nothing else to do except look with longing at the chicken that she was eating ever so slowly!).

I happened to glance at the tray liner across me and got intrigued enough to read the “Neat Facts about McDonald’s”. In part it stated, “Our crew members sanitize every 30 minutes and wash their hands every hour with warm running water using specially formulated anti-microbial soap.” The second paragraph stated, “this ensures you always get clean, safe, and great-tasting food …” Finally, there were statements about operational procedures and quality standards worldwide being aligned and about managers receiving “mandatory global training to ensure global standards are met.”

Ummmm, very comforting! But wait! How about the food as they are served?

OK, before I will proceed with this, let me say these first: I have nothing against McDonald’s. As stated, I’m crazy over their McChicken and their fries, although I must admit that I’ve remained loyal to Jollibee’s Chicken Joy and their array of burgers. I love you guys. My life won’t be complete without you filling me up with gastronomic delights!

But me being me, I just have to ask: Does global standards permit food and money to be handled by the same person?

By the way, I’m not some hygiene freak. I’m just a bewildered little housewife who was brought up knowing that money is dirty!

You know, after going through that much trouble to ensure that the food served is clean and safe, it’s kind of perplexing if you think of how our food is served to us by the very same person who takes our money and hands over our change to us. Wouldn’t that nullify all the trouble taken during the food preparation stage? And it’s not only McDonald’s, mind you. We also see this practice in Jollibee, Dunkin’ Donuts, Bread Worth and many others.

OK, what would be the counter-argument to those? That most items come individually packed? But how about the fries? I’ve been very observant lately. I just came from Jollibee and I noticed how a part of the cashier’s palm came in contact with my fries; that they take every precaution to avoid contact with food? Reason dictates that in a setting where speed is considered a virtue, avoiding contact simply could not be possible; that they use tongs when handling bread or donuts? Those very same hands still have to open the plastic bags or donut boxes don’t they?

This is almost analogous to this ridiculous practice observed by some in the food industry – the use of hairnets. They are supposed to keep the hair from falling into the food, right? How come there are food servers who still sport bangs which hang well outside their nets?

These observations are making me appreciate Chow King and Greenwich even more. Notice how their cashiers take only our orders? Our food is served by a different set of crew. Wouldn’t that be more in keeping with global standards?

By the way, if you’re not a Chow King fan yet, try their Fiesta Halo-Halo. Be sure to give these explicit instructions: 2 scoops of UBE ice cream (no other flavor will do!) and LESS ice. And while you’re at it, ask for Beef Chaofan. By itself, it’s kind of plain, so ask for their Chili Oil. A drop of this killer concoction will heat up your spoonful of chaofan like no other!

Chedette also introduced me to these! And she has converted many others! Chow King should be giving her a plaque of appreciation, or much better, some sort of commission!

Happy eating everyone! Dedicate your first spoonful to me!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Crushes, Then and Now

I had my first crush when I was in Grade 2. His name was Robert. He was the tallest and most handsome boy in the class. He was the smartest too. I’d like to pat myself in the back right now for my impeccable taste in men (hmmm)!

But I could never tell anybody about my secret love … and for the longest time, I feared that I was some kind of freak or something for having those confusing and oh-so-awkward feelings for that boy. I’m sure you know how it was. We’ve all been though it … the fast-beating heart we just knew everybody could hear, those telling blushes, the stammering, the not being able to look our object of affection directly in the eyes … the need to stay as far away as possible lest he’d notice how flustered or breathless we’ve become … And oh! how can we forget … that secret hope we nurtured deep inside that he felt exactly the same way towards us! Do you remember how even that most accidental of glances towards our direction could send us to seventh heaven?

Would it have been easier for me if I were told that my feelings were normal? All those years, guilt accompanied my secret sighs. I could not get over the thought that I should not be feeling those yet … being too young and all. I wonder until now how I got into that mind frame.

On hindsight, I wished that I were told it was ok. But would I say that to my own daughter? Now comes another matter. She already had crushes at 4 years of age. The very first to hold that distinction was Tim of Nickelodeon’s High 5 followed by Sportacus of Lazytown. Those did not raise my red flags yet. But lately though, she “graduated” to a boy in Grade 3, and unlike me who was determined to take my secret to my grave, she had no qualms about showing it to everybody. She even made him sit beside her during mass and declared afterwards that she was not washing her hand because he held it during the singing of The Lord’s Prayer!

She just turned seven! I’m freaking out here!!! Do I hear echoes out there?

How can I tell her that it is normal to like or admire a boy without telling her that it’s ok? Did that sound confused? That’s because I am! I don’t want to cloud Abby’s young mind with outdated prejudices. I want her to develop a healthy attitude towards boy-girl relationships but let her know at the same time that it is still too early for her to be thinking of these matters. (If her father could have his way, she could start thinking of crushes only after he has turned 30!) I wish I could find the proper balance: let her know that it’s normal without sounding too liberated or consenting about it. My fear now is that she might declare having a boyfriend by the time she reaches grade 2! Oh my God! Maboang ko ana!!!

It seems that I’m not alone in this. I’ve spoken with similar-minded parents voicing out these same concerns. My friend Chedette is handling this with 8-year old Carla by simply saying: “You’re not allowed!” Period. And I could see Tita Nini’s hackles rising at the mere thought of 6-year old Cody having crushes already. Mayet and Rudy have it easy. Their daughter Dom would burst into tears when teased about boys.

But can we really stop this from happening? That would be like wanting to stop the tides from turning. Everyday, our children are bombarded with heavy doses of love and romance. As I am writing this, Abby is watching a scene from Happy Feet showing two penguins falling in love. Even Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, supposedly child-oriented stations, seem incapable of veering away from this theme.

It is everywhere and our children, smart as they are, could not fail to notice and take in its significance. Can we blame them? Never. What then can we do as parents? As of now, I am doing the ostrich’s act … you know, bury my head in the sand? I’m at a loss about what to do, so I’m doing nothing. I wish I could have Chedette’s certainty as to the course of action she is taking. But I feel that I need to do more than that … only that I do not know what that is yet!

Motherhood … could any job be more difficult?