When dreams come true


TVIRD facilitates harelip surgery for kids in and around Canatuan

Antonio Feliciano is a surgeon with a social conscience. Despite his hectic schedule, he finds time to share his many blessings with the less fortunate. Affectionately called “Dr. Bonjing” by his friends and patients, he is active in civic organizations. A couple of years ago, Dr. Bonjing and like-minded medical doctors from Zamboanga City in Southern Philippines formed the Jerome Foundation, Inc., an NGO dedicated to providing free treatment to those afflicted with harelip or split lip condition. Collectively, they dreamed of a world with less physically deformed children.

Above, Jumel with his mother, Leticia, a week after undergoing
harelip surgery; and below, before the operation.

One day, Dewayne Chambers, a gruff-speaking American who shuttles between Davao and Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, gave a ride to a group of boys out to pick fallen dead branches for firewood. He noticed that one of the boys, Rommel (not his real name), had a very charming and friendly face marred by harelip. Chambers told a colleague that a mining company extracting gold and silver from Canatuan should at least be able to give Rommel, and other kids similarly afflicted, a brighter future by making it possible for Rommel to undergo reconstructive surgery. Chambers is Special
Projects manager of that company, TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc. (TVIRD).

Fatima is 18 years old. She is a Tausug, a Muslim tribe in Sulu, but her family has settled in Sta. Maria, Siocon. She used to go to school but stopped when she could no longer stand the jeers and ridicule she received from her classmates because of her harelip condition. She dreamed of the day when she could put forward a normal face.

Somehow, there was an Unseen Hand that wove these separate strands of dreams together. A joint team of personnel from the Rural Health Unit (RHU) of Siocon, the Canatuan Community Clinic and the TVIRD Community Relations and Development Office (CReDO) staff worked together to identify children with harelip condition. They then got in touch with the Jerome Foundation, Inc. to work out the schedules for operation.

In late January, 12 kids from ages 8 to 18, accompanied by their parents and the joint RHU-TVIRD team, boarded the bus from Siocon to Zamboanga City. They were divided into two groups; one proceeded to the Zamboanga Doctor’s Hospital and the other one to the Ciudad Medical de Zamboanga. There, they were examined by Jerome Foundation doctors. Unfortunately, one patient could not be operated on because he had cough.

The children underwent cheilopasty, as the surgical procedure to repair the harelip condition is called, during the next two days. After an overnight rest in the hospital, they were all discharged and declared fit to leave the hospital.

Several months later, Chambers again lobbied for another round of cheiloplasty to facilitate the surgery of a Subano child, Jumel, whom Chambers befriended and became fond of. Consequently, CReDO and the Canatuan Clinic scouted again for more children with the same physical deformities within TVIRD’s host and impact communities.

The scouting team found five more children, among them Dwight Lane, the 5 year-old son of Mario, a Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary serviceman assigned to secure Canatuan.

Thus, in early May, Jumel, Chambers’ little Subano buddy, as well as Dwight and four other children, finally realized their dream: a harelip surgery that their parents admitted they could not afford to finance.

Second batch of cheilopasty patients with their parents: They now have reasons to smile.

Leticia, Jumel’s mother, was teary-eyed after the operation: “Kun wala pa ang TVI, dili gayud mahitabo nga matahi ang bungi sa akong anak. Mahal kini ug dili gayud namo makaya ang gasto. Salamat TVI sa paghatag ug maayong kaugmaon sa akong anak, (If not for TVIRD, it would not have been possible for my child to undergo harelip surgery. It is very expensive and we could not afford it. Thank you TVIRD for giving our child a brighter future).

Mario was also nearly in tears when he saw his only child, Dwight, after the surgery. “Salamat sa pagpakabana sa TVI ngadto sa mga kabataan nga adunay problema sama sa akong anak…Dili nako makalimtan ang pagtabang nga gihatag niini sa akong anak (Thank you for TVIRD’s concern for children with the same predicament as my son…I will never forget the help given to my child),”Aclao said.

Recently, CReDO personnel received this text message from Fatima:”Thank you for the help you gave us. I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with that condition. Without your help, my dream would not have come true.”

Indeed, the dream of Dr. Bonjing and his fellow doctors in the Jerome Foundation has given many souls the inspiration to help, and many young people plenty of reasons to smile. (Oscar Covarrubias and Rene Patangan)