Catalyst of Change: Making our Mark in History

News-Feature Article | GeneSoc and the Institution of VYLH-Philippines
Written by Frank Daniel Canlobo*

Leadership. Commitment. Advocacy.

These were the words that cultivated the minds of both delegates and organizers in the recently concluded 1st National Workshop of the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health – Philippines (VYLH). The event was a three days and two nights experience from July 17 to 19, 2009 at the Dacha Hotel/Villas in Tagaytay City. The National Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health is in response to an international collaboration composed of the Philippines, China, and Lebanon which is the Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH).

The Institution and Planning Workshop of VYLH-Philippines
Datcha Hotel, Tagaytay City
17-19 July 2009

The national workshop was led by the Institute of Human Genetics at the National Institutes of Health - UP Manila, the Department of Health, and The UPLB Genetics Society in collaborative efforts with The UPLB Microbiological Society, UP OIKOS, UP Society of Human Settlements Planners, and some faculty members of the Institute of Biological Sciences, UPLB headed by Dr. Merlyn Mendioro, the Senior Adviser of Genesoc. It included a successful series of lectures and seminars which informed the delegates regarding the present health issues of our country and the role of the youth as advocates of health. Orientation, planning workshops, and team building exercises were also incorporated in the program to promote active participation and suggestion of ideas, as well as to instill the values of cooperation, teamwork, leadership, and commitment to the participants and facilitators of the camp.

This ground-breaking activity was participated by several youth leaders and representatives from different organizations – school-based and community-based – from all over the Philippines (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and NCR). A total of 61 youth leaders and representatives from 37 organizations answered the call to be part of the pioneer youth network here in the Philippines who will contribute to the information/advocacy campaign of the health related programs of the National Institute of Health and Department of Health. The participating organizations together with the UPLB organizations (GeneSoc, MicroSoc, UP Oikos, and HSPSoc) constitute the country’s youth arm in the pursuance of health related programs designed to alleviate awareness and medical practice in the country. The said network is a first of its kind in the Philippines and would serve as the primary youth collaboration related to health.

Newborn Screening Promotion, Orphan Disorders Support and Folic Acid Awareness Campaign are the flagship programs of the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health-Philippines. It aims to increase awareness regarding the importance of Newborn Screening and the importance of taking the proper amount of folic acid during the childbearing or reproductive years. The network also gathers public support for orphan disorders through a signature campaign in support of a Rare Disease Act of the Philippines.

Lecturers and Speakers of the First VYLH Camp. TOP Left to Right: Dr. Juanita Basilio, OIC-Director of the Family Health Office – DOH; Dr. Carmencita Padilla, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics and Newborn Screening Reference Center; Ms. Aster Lynn Sur, RN., orphan disorders advocate; BOTTOM: Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine of UP Manila-Philippine General Hospital (PGH); Dr. Eva Maria Cutiangco-dela Paz, Assistant Director of the Institute of Human Genetics-NIH; and Dr. Elizabeth Paterno, a Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine of UP-PGH.
Last July 17, Friday, a doxology marked the opening ceremonies of the camp. It served as a prayer of thanks for the safe trip and arrival of the delegates during that stormy day. A welcome message was then delivered by Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, Director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDPC)-DOH. This was followed by an inspiring message from Dr. Carmencita Padilla, an Honorary Member of GeneSoc and the Director of the Institute of Human Genetics (IHG)-NIH. The last message of the night came from Frank Daniel Canlobo, President of the UPLB Genetics Society, the lead youth organization of the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health – Philippines.

Socialization and getting-to-know activities filled the night with sounds of laughter and fun. Short group activities allowed the participants to actively collaborate with each other and to socialize with people of their same age range but came from different regions of the country with different personalities and character. The night ended with the participants writing the expectations they have of themselves, the facilitators, and the camp.

A pleasant and rainless morning greeted the second day of the camp. This gave some participants, together with Dr. Padilla, the chance to see the wonders Tagaytay City has to offer – including the world-famous Taal Volcano. After their breakfast, participants and organizers gathered in the conference hall to listen to the first lecture of the day. Dr. Oliveros gave the lecture prepared by Dr. Juanita Basilio, Officer-in-Charge of the Family Health Office, NCDPC-DOH, regarding the current health situation of the country – particularly those concerning the Filipino family – and the health intervention programs offered by the Department of Health.

Dr. Carmencita Padilla, as one of the chief proponents of the Newborn Screening Act in the Philippines, then gave a seminar about the topic. She introduced the National Birth Defects Surveillance Project which aims to reduce the number of babies with congenital metabolic disorders. She emphasized that early detection and treatment of such disorders can help save a child from mental retardation and death.

Through an audio visual presentation, the delegates were introduced to a patient with a rare or orphan disorder – Juan “Dikoy” Magdaraog, a Pompe’s Disease Patient and Survivor. After watching Dikoy’s life and his struggles, Aster Lynn Sur, a nurse and advocate of several health programs/organizations including Newborn Screening and the Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders (PSOD), further enlightened the heart-strucked audience how it is in the world of rare diseases.

The afternoon was put in a lighter mood with a lecture regarding the role of youth leaders in health by Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, a National Medical Practitioner and Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine of UP Manila-Philippine General Hospital (PGH). It was an active discussion as he consulted the delegates and facilitators alike of their ideas of what best describes a youth leader. He shared personal experiences and advices that inspire the youth to become the acting force of change in the country.

After conducting a pre-test survey on folic acid supplementation awareness, Dr. Eva Maria Cutiangco-dela Paz, Assistant Director of the Institute of Human Genetics-NIH, discussed the importance of folic acid supplementation in preventing several newborn defects. She discussed the sources of folic acid and when it should be properly taken to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord called neural tube defects. A post-test survey was answered by the participants during dinner.

Ryan John Pascual, Coordinating Head of the Folic Acid Campaign from UPLB, then presented the plans of the UPLB group on the campaign and expansion of the VYLH. This was followed by a planning and organizing seminar by Dr. Elizabeth Paterno, a Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine of UP-PGH.

After the series of lectures and seminars, it was the participants’ turn to share their ideas and thoughts of the project. With the help of their respective facilitators and moderators, they were grouped according to cluster (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, NCR, and Community-based Organizations) and commenced with the planning sessions. In here, they shared their experiences and gave their own ideas of ways to increase the health awareness of people within their universities or communities. It proved to be a successful workshop as positive feedbacks were constantly received from a panel or reactors during the presentation of their output.

It was a jam-packed day yet it was still not finished. Leadership training and team building activities were held after the participants had their dinner and rest. Through the different team building exercises, the delegates were actively reminded of the values a leader and advocate must have: teamwork, cooperation, trust, open-mindedness, coordination, communication, and humility.

The importance of commitment was instilled to the delegates and organizers through a special commitment ritual. As the final act for the day, each person involved in the camp was given a lighted candle which symbolizes their burning passion and desire to do the impossible and become the catalyst of change of their generation. All participants then spelled the letters VYLH using their candles, and said their pledges of commitment to the project and its goals.

The third and final day of the camp started with a larger group who communed with nature before the day’s program. After breakfast, Chromewell Agustin Mojica, an Alumnus and former President of Genesoc, presented the results of the survey from the previous day. Results showed that there was an increased awareness of the delegates regarding proper folic acid supplementation. Then, another planning session of the different clusters was done with their respective NIH representatives to address future meetings and communication concerns.

The closing ceremonies were made exciting by the participants as each cluster showed-off their talents in singing, dancing, and acting through a production number. Truly, their performance and participation throughout the duration of the camp exceeded all expectations.

A final prayer was offered to ask for guidance for the coming days and as thanks to the great success of the national workshop. All participants and organizers of the camp left for their homes that day with a renewed sense of advocacy, commitment, volunteerism, and passion.

*Frank Daniel Canlobo (Chromatosome, BS BIO-ZOO '10) served as the President of The UPLB Genetics for AY 2009-2010. He is currently a med-student at UERM and the incumbent Vice-President for Luzon of VYLH-Philippines (2011-2012).