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How US peers helped rebuild UP’s school of health sciences library in Leyte after ‘Haiyan’

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Jonathan Laroya (UCSD), Raquel Morales (LBC) and Happy Araneta (UCSD), with George Porto and Felix Jacinto of LBC Express in Mira Mesa, California. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

SAN DIEGO, California – When Typhoon “Haiyan/Yolanda” smashed into Leyte last November, among its victims was the University of the Philippines Manila School of Health Sciences (UPM SHS) in Palo.

The typhoon destroyed the school’s facilities and seriously disrupted the school’s innovative program, which trains students from underserved communities to become health practitioners utilizing a stepladder curriculum.

But help came quickly from institutions in the United States, so that by last February 17 the school was operational again.

Innovative program

In the school’s innovative program, students begin at the level of Community Health Worker/Midwife and can continue toward pursuing nursing and medical degrees.

Admissions are based on community needs and the scholars’ willingness and commitment to serve the community.  Scholars are chosen by sponsoring communities and are required to provide two years of service for every one year of study.

This program, the first of its kind in Asia, ensures the availability of health workers especially in underserved areas.  It is so cutting edge that the British Broadcasting Company featured the School’s unique curriculum (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21123212).

As displaced residents from Leyte arrived in Metro Manila, an aid volunteer, JoAnn de Larrazabal met Josephine Cariaso, a  faculty member of UP Manila, College of Nursing,  who communicated that  UPM SHS was completely destroyed.

Cariaso indicated rebuilding their library would be the most difficult and expensive project, since medical books typically retail for over $100 each.

Book drive starts

JoAnn asked her cousin Dr. Happy Araneta, associate professor at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, to solicit book donations and connected her with Christine (Nena) Wuthrich, LBC Foundation’s head of operations (disclosure: Araneta is the author’s sister).

Wuthrich responded, “This is definitely a worthy cause and one LBC Foundation will be happy to support. We are happy to be supporting such a noble cause. So thank you too for giving us the opportunity.”

After Typhoon Yolanda struck last November, LBC Express provided free shipping of 91,500 boxes of relief goods from 22 countries, which they delivered to the Philippine Red Cross and Gawad Kalinga.

Araneta sent emails requesting book donations to her students and colleagues at multiple medical schools. She established a connection with Dr. Salvador Isidro Destura, dean of UPM SHS, through Cariaso and Dr. Araceli Balabagno, dean of UP Manila College of Nursing.

Books pile up

Books donations started piling up outside Araneta’s office, including nursing textbooks and instructional videos from San Diego City College students.

Jonathan Loraya, a UCSD medical student who attended UP Baguio, requested books through social media.  Through his efforts, Midwestern University in Arizona donated 20 boxes of books, drove them to San Diego, and rented a storage facility until the books were ready for shipment.

Dr. Brenda Bantados, a UCSD graduate, organized the book drive at Columbia University in New York, while Dr. Joyce Javier, assistant professor at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, led their regional book drive.

In the San Francisco area, librarians at Stanford and at UC San Francisco Medical Center donated virtually new medical books.

Asian Health Services, a community-based clinic in Oakland, gave recent issues of medical journals.  Joslin Diabetes Center organized the book drive at Harvard and collected 500 books, journals and DVD’s.

Lisa Kleintjes Kamemoto, director of Yale’s Physician Assistant Program’s Communications and Special Projects led Yale’s efforts.  Kamemoto wrote: “The Philippines has a special place in my heart since I attended UP Iloilo many years ago as an exchange student.  We are pleased to share our library!”

Generous gifts

Generous gifts from anonymous donors included 20 boxes of new medical and nursing textbooks and scholarships for two UPM SHS students to continue their studies at UP Manila.

To date, approximately 1,500 medical textbooks have been donated and shipped at no cost through LBC Express.

Michael Salomon, vice president of LBC Operations in North America and Gabby Ladao,  LBC area head, East Coast, coordinated the shipment, even arranging for a van from New Jersey  to pick-up books  in Manhattan, New Haven and Boston.

When Destura received a list of book titles and photos of donors and LBC staff working together,  he  responded: “The School of Health Sciences community in Palo, Leyte, is excited to receive the books that will be coming from the US.  We are very thankful that through the kind and generous hearts of the donors, our faculty and students will have access to quality references and learning materials.”

He added “SHS cannot thank you enough for this help that your group is extending to us. It’s this kind of help that inspires us more to become resilient to the challenges that we are currently facing. More power and salamat!”

UPM SHS was back in operation by February 17.  A Buddhist organization donated modular classrooms and dormitories.

Araneta hopes this effort to sustain medical education creates long-term collaborations between UPM SHS and American medical schools, including remote learning.  As a start, Destura has already reached out to the Joslin Diabetes Center to establish diabetes prevention efforts in Leyte.


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