Thursday, April 30, 2009

Laguna's Midwives of the Soul

~~ In the News ~~
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – They call themselves “midwives of the soul.” But while midwives assist women during childbirth, these hospice volunteers “give comfort to the dying.”

“When dying, there is so much pain – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. The hospice attends to all those,” said hospice president Monina Mercado.

In 1993, Fermin and Lourdes Adriano, both professors at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), lost their 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, to cancer. Trying to assuage their grief, they attended a hospice seminar of Filipino oncologist Dr. Josefina Magno in Manila.

Magno, who was the pioneer of hospice care in Washington D.C. and Maryland, was then commissioned by the World Health Organization to bring the idea of palliative care to Third World countries.

The Adrianos introduced hospice care to colleagues and to some members of church groups in Los Baños the following year.

The Madre de Amor Hospice was founded and its first president was Antonio Mercado, Monina’s husband.

Since then, the hospice has serviced about 500 dying persons in 15 years and is considered the longest running community-based foundation with its center located in Los Baños Subdivision, formerly the Umali Subdivision, in Barangay Batong Malake.

“The dying usually asks not to be left alone, to be forgiven, to reconcile differences with spouse or children,” Monina said.
Death, she added, comes with the “fear of the unknown and of the end of things.”

The dying fears leaving loved ones behind.

“We do not promise cure to the patients, it is not in our hands,” said Monina. The hospice, instead, offers companionship and friendship to the dying as well as to the family of the dying.

A dying person goes through the denial stage and the hospice helps him/her accept the fact.

“Death is not death. It is a passage to the next life,” Monina said. As the body perishes, the soul remains. She said this is the “healing” the hospice could offer.

Monina remembered Emma, a hospice patient who had cancer of the uterus.

“She could not sleep. She said she could hear children crying in her head and wanted to stop them,” she said.

Emma was a known abortionist in the town for 10 years and only stopped when she was diagnosed of the illness.

The volunteers accompanied Emma to a confession, but it did not stop the crying.

“We told her, you have to forgive yourself,” Monina recalled.

However, the anguish continued. It only ended when Emma opened up about her adopted son Boyet.

Last suffering

According to Monina, there was a young student who wished to get an abortion. Emma refused as the student was already on her ninth month of pregnancy. She instead adopted the boy.

“It was her last suffering. She worried about who would take care of Boyet,” Monina said.

Emma’s sister promised to take care of the boy and shortly after, Emma died in 1997.

As referred to by WHO and insurance companies, hospice workers are often called volunteers.

“It is only here in Laguna that we are called nambibisita,” Monina said. She said the term came from the volunteers’ approach as “nambibisita po kami (we are here to visit).”
Madre de Amor has about 50 volunteers operating in 17 towns of Laguna. They come in pairs when visiting homes of patients usually at Stage 3 or 4 of cancer.
Most of the time, relatives, neighbors or doctors enroll a person to the hospice.

“It’s not easy to see a dying person. Sometimes, the breasts are open and rotting. Most (patients) also take time before they open up,” Monina said.

But she believed the volunteers were mature in age and experience. “They have a certain kind of depth. They are brave because they carry their faith,” she added.

A beginner volunteer undergoes a two-day training at the hospice.

The volunteers regularly meet each month to review and discuss the case of the patient they are handling and to consult with the hospice doctor regarding the patient’s medical needs. They also conduct quarterly spiritual recollections.

“A volunteer is never left alone. He has a support system,” Monina said.

When the patient dies, the volunteer joins the wake and attends to the bereaved family.
For the whole year, the volunteer looks after the family by regularly calling and visiting them.

If a relative of the volunteer dies or the patient he was taking care of passes away, the volunteer is not allowed to do hospice work for a year to recover from bereavement. He, however, continues to attend activities at the hospice.

A volunteer gets by “through prayers and friendship” the others offer him, Monina added.

They receive no pay for the service, as the foundation survives through donations and drugs sourced from health organizations.


Teresita Gonzales, 68, was one of the hospice’s pioneer volunteers. She joined the service believing “it was pay back time.”
Teresita earlier worked at the University of Missouri Medical Center, whose patients were children with terminal illnesses.
In 1986, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“They gave me six months (to live) and I am alive up to now,” she said, owing her survival to medical doctors and to the “Divine physician.”

She said her faith and the support of loved ones were a big factor to her recovery. “I felt first-hand how to have this kind of disease. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to touch and heal the dying,” she said.

She remembered one hospice patient, Pauline, who had a brain tumor. Hours before the girl died, Pauline talked to her about seeing images of God and angels.

“That is the stage called playing with the angels. Her eyes were stuck on the ceiling,” she recalled.

Teresita lamented that the dying are often ignored in society today.

“What if death sneaks in and you are caught unprepared? Every day, you need to make a difference in the lives of other people,” she believed.

Hospice movement

Hospice care in the Philippines has not gained much support and popularity, said Dr. Rhodora Ocampo, Madre de Amor medical and program director. In Asia, she said, Singapore has so far the most number of hospice centers.

“The need for hospice care could be referred to the millions of people dying unrelieved of pain and suffering,” Ocampo said.

Most hospice patients in the Philippines suffer from breast and lung cancer.

Only 11 percent die in the hospital, while 89 percent die in their homes, mostly without available treatment.

Madre de Amor helped establish the National Hospice Palliative Care Council of the Philippines and in 2003, the umbrella organization Hospice Philippines that now has 20 member hospices.

It has also moved for the declaration of the National Hospice Week celebrated every first week of October.

Laguna’s ‘midwives of the soul’ By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 01:03:00 04/16/2009, accessed 4/24/2009

Contributed by Mary Ann Ubaldo

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Power of Healing: Remembering our Babaylan Spirit

~~ In The News ~~

Human beings are not born violent: Associate Professor Leny Mendoza-Strobel

SAN PEDRO—"Perhaps if women had never lost parity with men and we live in a society that honors both genders equally, we wouldn’t even need an International Women’s Day," declared Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel, an Associate Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University, and a cultural and community advocate.

The celebration of International Women’s Day, which began in 1911 and celebrated in 63 countries and 982 events this year, is a "gesture of multiculturalism in its conservative form," according to Dr. Strobel, who spoke at the Men Reading Women’s Writings luncheon held at the Ports of Call Restaurant in San Pedro on Saturday, March 28. Her speech was entitled The Power of Healing: Remembering our Babaylan Spirit.

"Human beings are not born violent, do you agree?" she began. "We now have access to accounts that tell us of prehistoric huntergatherer societies that lived in balance with nature and harmony with each other and with other species. They had conflicts, but they did not have war."

Dr. Strobel said that even today, according to Filipino author Katrin de Guia, in the Philippine island of Palawan, there are still indigenous peoples that do not have a word for war in their language. "When developers began to encroach on their ancestral domains, they mainly avoided the conflict by moving deeper into the forest."

Historians write that matriarchal societies ended at the beginning of the agricultural era 10,000 years ago. That era also marked the beginning of patriarchal civilizations. "Matriarchal societies," says Dr. Strobel, "are non-hierarchical, egalitarian and deemed the relationship to the universe and all species as sacred. With the rise and evolution of patriarchy, these feminine values and energies were repressed and exiled into the narrow spaces of expression under the control of patriarchal institutions and systems."

Philippine Society in general is under-guarded by an egalitarian, lateral kinship system, according to a talk by Filipino professor Jaime Veneracion, at a lecture he delivered to a group of Fullbright scholars that included Dr. Strobel. "This is the reason," says Dr. Strobel, "why we have a difficult time adjusting to the requirements of modernity because underneath all these modern impositions is a bilateral egalitarian system."

Dr. Strobel said she recently had a discussion with her Fil-Am classes At Sonoma State University in which they talked about the values of "kapwa" (fellow humans) and "Bathala na" (God’s will), the value of "loob" (inner self) and "dangal" (honor) and "pakikiramdam" (sensitivity). "Many of the white students remarked how beautiful these values are, and that they would like to live their lives being more in tune to those values," Dr. Strobel revealed. "Our modern lives dismember and fragment our lives by exiling our feminine or female energies in the bedroom and in the home and the service of men’s needs," Dr. Strobel asserts. "Men are dismembered by cultural values that tell them that they must not cry or show emotions, or that the only way to survive and make it in the world is through aggressive competition," she adds.

She said that the psychology of "kapwa" (self) is geared towards the "babaylan" (ancient healer/shaman) practice that each human embodies male and female energy. "That’s what makes a person whole," said Dr. Strobel.

Linda Nietes, owner of Philippines Expressions Bookshop, which organized the event, thanked the men for coming and for reading stories and poems written by Filipino women. The readers were Robert J. Little, Jr. (Linda Nietes’ husband); who read Love ‘Em, Leave ‘Em and Speak Up Woman!, A Dalaga’s Debut, from the book Twenty-Five Chickens and Pig for Bride, read by Stephen Adamu; To the Man Who Thinks He’s in the Market, poetry by Rowena Penaflor Festin and In the Name of the Mother:100 Years of Philippine Feminist Poetry, 1889-1989 by Lilia Quindoza Santiago, read by Robert J. Little, Jr., The Legend of Lola Amonita, poetry by Elvira S. Mabanglo, and Silence, a story by Marianne Villanueva, read by Craig Diamond; and Beauty and the Brit by Joselle Concio Harkin, from the book Speak Up, read by Steve Austin, and Fruit Stall from the book, The Kissing: A Collection of Short Stories by Melinda Bobis, read by Steven de la Vega.

"Men are present because in our last event last year, we had made it an all-woman activity. Now we thank the men for coming," Nietes said. "This is an advocacy that we women cannot do alone…; to be able to highlight the fact that men and women are partners in their journey in this life."

Published on April 4, 2009 in Asian Journal Los Angeles, p. A3, accessed 4/24/2009.

Contributed by Leny Mendoza-Strobel

Kapwacon '09 - Save the Date

Kapwa Conference 09 will take place onsite at San Francisco State University on Saturday, June 27, 2009.

The conference will focus on the work of educators to better serve the diverse nature of today’s student population – Filipin@ youth, people of color, and similarly marginalized persons to transcend the effects of colonization and go beyond the basics of identity politics, to develop survival strategies, foster healing, and to build bridges and nurture community.

Through lectures, panels, roundtables, symposia, workshops, exhibits and performances, we will specifically explore roles and perspectives at the intersections of the Global, Local, and Personal levels.

See the Kapwacon 09 blog for details.

The Chieftain, The Artisan, and the Healer


"Through the use of myths and legends, old dictionaries, friar accounts and other historical and archaelogical records, the group, led by Dr. Zeus A. Salazar,* opened the way to access the ancient barangay's life form- it's economic and socio-political organization, including their non-material elements necessary for their existence."

ROOTS & PRESENCE, The Baybaylan Historico-Cultural Context, p. 22-23 in CENTENNIAL CROSSINGS, Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines, Edited by Fe B. Mangahas & Jenny R. Llaguno.

"Salazar* identified three figure of authority in the barangay: the datu, panday and babaylan. The datu, who was the local chieftain, took charge of the economic and political organization of the barangay. The importance of specialists with particular skills was emphasized by the bestowal of the title 'panday', in recognition of mastery of an art, an applied science. Skills in various materials were specified: panday-ginto (goldsmith), panday-bakal (blacksmith) or panday-anluwagi (builder-carpenter) . The babaylan, predominantly women (men had to be like women to perform this societal function), was the "specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature....a pro-scientist. .." Salazar later added a fourth figure - the bayani or bagani (chief warrior or hero) who took card of the maintenance of law and order, peace and stability of the barangay.

"The World of the Babaylan

What kind of physical and social world could possibly produce women with leadership qualities equal to men as datu & panday?"

GINTO, History wrought in Gold by Ramon Villegas.

* DATU, PANDAY & BABAYLAN "Bagong Kasaysayan" by Zeus A. Salazar & Mary Jane B. Rodriguez, UP Journal Series (1999).

Contributed by Mary Ann Ubaldo, Urduja Filipino Jewelry

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Artist Expressions - Urduja Custom Jewelry

Understanding the babaylan means more than just reading about the past and critiquing the present. The artist expresses the principles of the babaylan through her work.

Mary Ann Ubaldo writes:

I am an artist that deeply relates to our Filipino culture. It is a decolonization process(pagbabalik loob) for me of reconnecting with the past to get a better understanding of the present and be able to envision the future.

Going through this process strengthens the cultural connection to the Filipino indigenous culture, ideology as a source of grounding.

In this way, it promotes cultural and spiritual connection making it possible for us to identify with one's people and history despite personal, generational, education, economic classes and other forms of differences.

Language and the way of writing are foundations of one's culture. By using Baybayin/Alibata in my art it is a deeper search of our identity and understanding how the loss of language, ancient scripts affects our Filipino identity, that the Filipino culture is the soul of our people, a connection to our folk soul.

I could really say, I am on a LAKARAN, that inspired me to do it, a spiritual journey/ pilgrimage, towards understanding a little bit better our spiritual heritage. It is a pilgrimage back to my Filipino cultural roots, a search going back to our KATAALAN.

I see the power of art as a tool to educate and raise consciousness about our indigenous roots. I am reinventing who we are, making sense of what is it to be a Filipino/Filipina, not defined by colonizers.

I believe, there is an inner guiding spirit which I identify as my MUTYA, the spiritual force (diwa/soul) of Inang Bayan (Motherland), that leads me in my art. I am guided by BATHALA & our ancestors.

Through her different lines of jewelry, Mary Ann expresses the intricate relationship between the artist and her beliefs, providing a tangible method for others to connect with the deepness of the babaylan world-view.

Defining Kapwa

Kapwa, meaning 'togetherness', is the core construct of Filipino Psychology. Kapwa has two categories, Ibang Tao (other people) and Hindi Ibang Tao (not other people). Wikipedia

(pronoun) kindred, both; fellow-being, equally (applied to one of a pair) - Kapwa dot Com

...the tendency to see the world with all its beings, both human and lower forms, as a holistic system where everything operates interdependently and inter-relatedly... It is a system where harmony with other people and the environment is a much-needed trait. - Henry F. Funtecha, Ph.D., The News Today, 7/4/2008

...the Tagalog word for "shared identity" or "brotherhood." - DavisWiki

One of the most important features of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) is the tendency to see the world with all its beings as a holistic system where things operate interdependently. Harmony with other people and the environment is a much-needed trait today in our shrinking global village. This orientation is called "kapwa"—the shared self — in the Filipino traditional value system, as expounded by Sikolohiyang Pilipino (SP). - Leny Strobel, 1/27/2008

One of the most difficult questions and tasks about dismantling privilege is this requirement to shift our understanding of the Self from the "I" to "We/kapwa." In the latter, we (privileged Americans) must begin to know and feel deeply that our affluent lifestyles have a social cost and a social burden that is carried by the poor of the world and the Earth. - Leny Strobel, 1/4/2008

I think the primary action of decolonization for me is this realization that I am not the artifact called 'Filipina,' but a Filipina - one who interacts and is constantly remade as a Filipina with every interaction, every relationship forged, every action I make which ties me to my heritage. Being Filipina isn't defined only by what I do as an individual, but by the living, breathingness of Kapwa that takes into account my environment, my choices, the choices of others, my fears and triumphs, all at the same time, all in constant motion. Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

“Kapwa”—a Filipino cultural concept of interconnectedness whereby other people are not “others” but part of what one is. (from the opening page; emphasis in original). - Eileen Tabios, Blind Chatelaine's Keys

Shared identity; fellow being; neighbor; the shared, "including" the Self.  - Katrin de Guia, p. 376 Kapwa: The Self in the Other (Anvil Publishing, Pasig City, 2005)