Like many boons of Asia’s growing prosperity, decent health care is very unevenly distributed. Excellence for the few, yes. But for most, the region’s ill-equipped, understaffed public clinics and hospitals must somehow suffice. For the poorest, there is often nothing at all. Such a state of affairs, says SISTER EVA FIDELA MAAMO of the Philippines, belies the inherent right of the poor to be healthy. This is why SISTER EVA, a surgeon, works for the poor.
Born in 1940 in the small island town of Liloan, Southern Leyte, EVA MAAMO matriculated at the Velez College of Medicine in Cebu and, for a year or two, practiced at her family’s clinic in Liloan. But she soon moved on to Manila where she honored a childhood vow to enter the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres. As SISTER EVA, she volunteered in 1974 to help establish a medical mission on the shores of Lake Sebu in Mindanao. There she built a crude bamboo infirmary and treated T’bolis, Manobos, and other hill folk from the surrounding mountains. Far from ready supplies and with only the simplest instruments to work with, SISTER EVA performed miracles of improvisation – operating by flashlight and substituting coconut water for dextrose. To expand health services beyond her tiny clinic, she trained local men and women to serve as “barefoot doctors” in isolated villages scattered across the hills.
Returning to Manila in 1980, SISTER EVA honed her skills at Philippine General Hospital and, at her Order’s direction, set out to revitalize a small neighborhood clinic. In Singalong she witnessed firsthand the squalid life of Manila’s teeming poor. Working through Our Lady of Peace Mission, which she founded in 1986, she was soon extending a helping hand to needy communities throughout the city.
Today, SISTER EVA maintains no-fee health clinics in ten Manila squatter areas and provides nutritious meals daily to malnourished children in six of them. In the same communities, there are livelihood and micro-credit programs to lift indigent adults from mendicancy to work. In her Mission’s shelters, street children and abused women find safe haven; through its scholarship program, hundreds of poor youths can afford to attend school. SISTER EVA is now devoted to completing her latest project, a charity hospital for the poor of Manila.
But SISTER EVA has spread her healing wings far beyond Manila. Following a calamitous earthquake and floods in the early 1990s, she led medical teams to the devastated regions. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, she developed a comprehensive resettlement project to help hundreds of displaced Aetas start a new life. Four times every year, moreover, SISTER EVA leads weeklong medical missions to far-flung sites across the country. To date, over forty thousand indigent patients have been treated by her volunteer doctors, nurses, and dentists. In similar missions, she and other Filipino surgeons have removed tumors, repaired cleft palates, extracted cataracts, and cured myriad other ills in thousands of free operations—usually working from dawn till dusk in makeshift operating rooms.
Diminutive SISTER EVA is a dynamo of quiet determination who leads by example. Late into an exhausting day of surgery, her volunteer doctors drive themselves to continue, they say, “because SISTER EVA is continuing.” She herself is inspired by Jesus’ teaching to care for “the least of My brethren.” This SISTER EVA does tirelessly, with no thought for herself. Addressing the needs of the poor, she says, is her country’s “most crying need.” Besides, she adds, “Working with the poor is a joy.
In electing SISTER EVA FIDELA MAAMO to receive the 1997 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes her compelling example in bringing humane assistance and the healing arts to the poorest Filipinos.
Your Excellency, President Fidel V. Ramos; Mrs. Luz Banzon Magsaysay; members of the Board of Trustees; fellow Awardees; distinguished guests; friends, ladies; and gentlemen. I thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for this privilege of being one of the 1997 Awardees. I accept this award with all humility to praise and thank God for His tremendous love and concern for the poor, the sick, and the underprivileged. In truth and in essence, an award for community leadership does not belong to any one person alone but rightfully to the community as a whole. And who is that community? It is the members of the board of trustees of the Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, who together with the Alfon
I thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for this privilege of being one of the 1997 Awardees. I accept this award with all humility to praise and thank God for His tremendous love and concern for the poor, the sick, and the underprivileged.
In truth and in essence, an award for community leadership does not belong to any one person alone but rightfully to the community as a whole.
And who is that community?
It is the members of the board of trustees of the Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, who together with the Alfonso Yunchengo Foundation and the Manila Doctors Hospital, have provided the structure, direction, and logistic support for us to do our work.
It is our dedicated staff and our Sisters, who take care of the different project centers, compassionately bring mothers, brothers, teachers, doctors, advisers, and friends to the poor men, women, and children of the squatter and Aeta communities, helping them to cope with their lives and empowering them to rise above their many problems.
It is the committed young volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives, and non-medical professionals in our Medical-Surgical Missions, working tirelessly into the night not only in the operating rooms but also climbing up with me to the hills and mountains, unmindful of the heat and rain, to reach out to the Aetas and victims of calamities, bringing with them the gospel message of God’s love, mercy, and compassion to His people. Many times it seemed there was nothing more to give, yet they continued on giving.
It is my family: my parents, my brothers and sisters, who gave me love, taught me to love, and nourished me with their strength and courage.
It is my religious family, the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres not only in the Philippines but all over the world, through my Provincial Superior, Sr. Agnes Therese Teves and her council, and my Community Superior, Sr. Carmelita Chua, who encouraged and stood by me in many ways in this apostolate.
It is the men and women of business and government who have shared their many talents and resources so we could accomplish our mission. It is also the ordinary folks—just wanting to help, looking for neither reward nor recognition.
And most important of all, the community is the poor and the marginalized, our fellow Filipinos “who have less in life,” whom the late President Ramon Magsaysay sought to help and protect by giving them more in law. They are our brothers and sisters who hold a special place in the heart of Jesus, of whom He said: “Whatever you do to the least of your brethren, you do unto Me.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the community is all of us. And what of leadership?
Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself provided the definition of a leader—one who serves and inspires others by his life and example.
We are all leaders. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we all can and should be community leaders.
Let this Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership be a challenge for us all. Let it be the impetus for inner spiritual growth and for reaching out to all our brothers and sisters so that this world could be the world God has intended it to be: a world of peace, a world of sharing, and a world of love. Let our goals go beyond the boundaries of our nations and the milestones of the year 2000. Let us focus our sights upon that time when all men shall become one and “all creation, everything in heaven and on earth shall be gathered together under Jesus Christ name.” It is God’s plan, and as His creatures let us, individually and as an entire humanity, confidently and wholeheartedly accept this challenge. Like our Blessed Mother, let us humbly say: “Thy will be done, My God!”