Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Natural Leader Who Has Shown A Will and A Way...We Thank You!

A great mission cannot be successful without a strong team leader! Our latest TWECS mission to the Philippines is indicative proof. The 13 team members ranging from ages 22 to 65, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas throughout Canada were led by Dr. Marina Roma-March. Although we were all different in so many ways we all shared a common goal of providing eye care to the poorest of the poor. Marina's dedication and passion for this cause kept team spirits high while enduring pressure to get as much accomplished in spite of extreme difficulties.

Mission 2012 was difficult in several ways. Severe working conditions at the Smokey Mountain clinic, just steps away from Manila's infamous garbage dumps were a tough challenge as we worked with patients living in extreme poverty. One of the first residents I registered reported her occupation as "scavenger", digging through piles of rubbish to find whatever piece of trash may prove to be of any value to trade for a crumb of food. Marina informed everyone on the team about the risk of foreigners coming to this area and made the safety of her team a priority. She worked closely with the vice-mayor's office to secure the aid of an amazing group of volunteers who became a key part to the mission's success.

In addition, throughout the mission, Marina continued her work on the dream of her and husband Derrick to establish a permanent sustainable clinic in Manila so her cause will go on after missions are over and so many people in need are left behind. This clinic has come a few steps closer as Marina continues to nourish relationships with like-minded fellow Filipinos.

This amazing woman, wife, mother of twins, running her own optometry clinic in Vancouver, has dedicated her life to the work of TWECS, the charity she and Derrick first began in 1995. Marina captured the highest respect from all team members and volunteers, new and old who accompanied her on this amazing journey showing that a leader can be humble, passionate and sincere during the most trying moments with her never ending energy.

Thank you Marina for being our leader and our friend, an invaluable combination.

Brenda Tosoff
TWECS Director / Team Member

Monday, 26 November 2012

Thank you!!

Imagine putting a pair of glasses on a 7-year-old girl who had been forced to stop school because she could not see the blackboard. She has never worn glasses before and I held in my hand a pair of -8.50 (with a little bit of cylinder for astigmatism). I put the glasses on her face and first there was silence. She turned her head and looked around for what had seemed like a lifetime. She turned to her mother, and then she turned to me. I smiled at her, hoping that she would reciprocate, and slowly, her lips curled upwards; my heart melted. As we checked her visual acuity again with the glasses on, I gazed over to her mother, who looked like she was ready to cry. This little girl was now able to see, and she can return back to school.

That was my glory story on this trip, and that was the point where I fully understood why we were there. In my opinion, this trip was a success. I had laughed more in the past two and a half weeks than I normally would in two months. I would love to thank the entire team for being there for me throughout this life-changing trip. Most of all I would like to extend a special thank you to Dr. Marina Roma-March for being the best leader I have ever worked with. Dr. Roma-March’s passion and dedication to TWECS cannot be described with words; we were all infected with her contagious compassion for the poorest of the poor. I will definitely be returning to future projects, as I am sitting here in Vancouver, having withdrawal symptoms already. Thank you again for all those who have followed the blog. I hope you got a taste of what we had experienced half way across the world, and hope that you can join the experience in future projects. 

Jessica Tu
TWECS Team Member

I will miss you all!

Arrival At Vancouver International Airport

Sunday, November 25th, the team returns home (or close to home), arriving at YVR or Vancouver International Airport.
Prior to our first clinic day, I will never forget Dr. Marina Roma-March letting us know that throughout the trip there will be numerous times that our patience and tolerance level will be tested which I now definitely agree with. Whether it was during the clinic days or even during the 5 rest and relaxation days we had, the most challenging part of this trip was coping with the various types of personalities, backgrounds, and living traditions.
HOWEVER, we were all aware of the purpose of this trip which was not to have a vacation and socialize but to spread our positive energies and our "fortune" to those who live their entire lives on survival mode, with occupations such as scavengers, housewives, drivers of tricycles, etc. I believe our team not only made a difference in the 5000+ patient's that we saw during our clinic days, but also within the towns that we set up the clinics in. I've learned in the Philippines that word spreads around very quickly as the communities and families are so attached to each other, so when one patient speaks of Canadian's being in their town, this resulted in 50 more patients for us and a whole bunch of "spectators" who stopped by our clinics merely to greet us and thank us for visiting them.
As unfortunate as the lives of the majority of the citizens of Philippines are, I believe us Canadians can also learn a very important rule of life from them. In the first world countries, we've been raised to honour money and wealth whereas in their community the one obvious or common quality was respect. There was respect for the elders of the community and there was respect for those poorer than yourself. Ultimately, I think the love and respect is what resulted in the thousands of thousands of smiles that I saw upon Filipino's faces, whether I was at the Mall of Asia, or the luxurious Makati City or Smokey Mountain in Tondo, where my bottle of Gatorade was kindly shared between 14 different children. THERE WERE SMILES EVERYWHERE!!!
Speaking on behalf of the TWECS 2012 team, I can safely say that we all learned a lot on this trip, and hopefully will be sharing our experiences with friends and family worldwide, and spreading the word about the good deeds of TWECS.  
Thanks for following our blog,
Tally Vatankhah

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Day 16 - Last TWECS Team Banquet

When my dad asked me to join him this year, I jumped at the opportunity to travel to the Philippines and work beside him and my mother. As gratifying as that was over the last two weeks, it became about the people I met during my stay here. We all have basic needs in life, and unfortunately not all of us are able to have that. Without sight, how does a child go to school, learn, graduate and then work to provide for their families? How does a parent raise their child not being able to see them? So I came with no expectations with the exception of working hard and help people who truly appreciated us being there. I heard it time and time again. They stood in long lines, waiting, and when they came to me for registration, I greeted them with a hello and a smile. It's all I had really. I don't speak their language of course, and my quirky sense of humour didn't always translate (to my dismay ) but laughter and giggles did. I don't think I ever laughed so much in a two week period. With my teammates, the translators, the patients, it was endless. That kind of laughter kept me going. There were days I was so exhausted, but it wasn't about me. To watch a child kiss my father because he could see clearly for the first time, moved me much more than the stories he brought home from his past missions. As great as they were to hear them over the years, watching it, in front of my eyes is something I'll never forget. NowI understand. There are many stories of course, and I even have a few myself to share with anyone who is willing to listen. I had many friends back home say I was doing a good thing. I didn't understand what they meant. Two weeks of my life, helping others who need it should be "natural". I got so much more than I expected. The people of the Philippines are beautiful people. I've met so many new friends who all believe in the same cause. I want to say Thank you to the volunteers that helped us in every aspect of this project. A lot of them became close friends that I've now added to Facebook. They shared their home cooked meals with me, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way, and it has given me a chance to truly experience the Philippines and the people here. Salamat Po. I'll be back! ;)
Christina Dawson,
TWECS Team Member
Goodbye banquet at the Makati Shangri-La, hosted by Andronica Roma.



Friday, 23 November 2012

Day 15 - Check in at the New World Hotel

Today, the team checks in at New World Hotel Makati, 5 miles away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Day 14 - Last clinic day for 2012!!!!!

Today was our last day at clinic and we were all excited, but at the same time, extremely sad. Seeing and interacting with the poorest of the poor has allowed me to understand and value the fortune that we have at home. It has been such a pleasure to work the Filipino people and we had the company of amazing volunteers.

Our last day at Santa Mesa was busy but one of the best days I had on this trip. The feeling of exhaustion was overcome when we arrived at clinic and, like all the other days, there was a large line up of people waiting for us. Registration got easier day by day; the types of questions that we were suppose to ask became second nature. The flow of the overall clinic ran smoother and the days began to feel like routine. There was nothing routine about the smiles that we received though. All the patients had their own way of expressing their appreciation to us and every smile was memorable; we even had an elderly patient sing to us. I could not have asked for a better mission. We are thankful for all those that helped us along the way, including the Honorable Vice Mayor, Isko Moreno, and his volunteers, Andronica Roma, and many more. TWECS members started off as individuals, then we became a team, and now we are family.

TWECS Team Member
The never ending line up of approximately 550 patients within 8.5 hours.
Barangay 600 (administrative division) serves the patients breakfast soup while conducting the examinations.
Dilation drops put into patients' eyes by Dr. Roma-March for eye health check.
TWECS 2012 team and volunteers pose for the last group picture at the clinic.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Day 13 - Second last clinic day

Dispensary at Santa Mesa clinic
We arrive every morning at about 8 o’clock. There they are, patiently waiting our arrival; The beautiful, gentle people of the Philippines. When they see us they break out in smiles and greet us. They have already lined up and wait for us to take down their names and other information. The volunteer interpreters help make it all go smoothly and off they go with form in hand to the next station. They will probably be there for at least five to six hours, in this incredible heat but we do not hear any complaints! I am humbled by their incredible, hopeful spirit in such squalor. They’re so fast to laugh at my silly jokes and as I try to make them feel comfortable in such tight quarters.
At the end of the day most will go away with glasses that will help them in their daily living. I feel that we have made a difference and that gives me the energy to be excited about the next day to see what other miracles are waiting!
Linda Dawson,
TWECS Team Member

A young girl's first pair of glasses which were prescribed to be -8.00. The transformation from a frown to a smile and tight hug is always the best sign of appreciation.
Hi everyone,

Today was our second day at Santa Mesa and our second last clinic day of the mission. I am having mixed feelings about nearing the end of the mission. I know we are all getting tired from the long days, but it will also be sad to see the end of the mission as there are still many local people who desperately need eyecare services. I have been impressed about how friendly and hospitable the Filipino people are. Every day we see people line up for hours in the heat and they wait patiently, while back home patients often get angry with a short 15-30 minute wait for their eye exam. 

It is sad to see so many people who have struggled for years with poor vision due to uncorrected refractive error and treatable diseases. I am thankful that I have been given the opportunity to help give sight back to some of these people. I have seen several patients over the last 9 days with refractive errors between -12.00 and -16.00 diopters. For comparison, an uncorrected refractive error of approximately -2.50 to -3.00 diopters is sufficient for someone to be "legally blind" by Canadian definition.

One thing about the Philippines that I have found interesting are the extremes. There is extreme poverty only a block or two from 5 star hotels and highrise condominiums. There is beauty next to desolation. But one thing that is constant is that the people are very friendly everywhere we go. I look forward to coming back again in the future.

Thanks for reading,
Michael Langenberger

Basketballs donated by TWECS team members to local Barangay office, as this sport was commonly played in the area.

The initial testing of distant visual acuities by a volunteer (left) and his finalized prescription and fitted glasses (right).

Dr. Lisa Scharf and volunteers: 500 patients could not be examined in 7 hours if it weren't for the help of our many volunteers!