‘True Tales’ series – volume 8
Sister Josephine is both a doctor and an acupuncturist, a blend of east and west. She applied acupressure on the chest of the peasant woman, who had no breastmilk for her malnourished baby, and in three minutes, the milk flowed.
eastwind journals – April 5, 2023 – archives tr48
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pitogo, Zamboanga del Sur, circa 1985. In this remote village in the deep south, there were no drugstores, no Western medicines, no hospitals, no doctors. To bridge the health gap, a new health culture pioneered by the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) was bred by poverty – alterntative medicine, such as acupuncture/acupressure and herbal medicine.
I was invited to write about her health activities by the late Sister Josephine Derequito, MMS, Sr. Jo for short, a licensed physician and a trained acupuncturist all at once, the merging of Eastern and Western Medicine. She travelled to different villages to help the sick. In Pitogo, a fishing village, a young peasant woman asked help for her one-year-old baby, who was very frail but had a big stomach, a sign of advanced stage malnutrition.
SISTER JO – Your baby is frail and sick.
WOMAN – Sister, I do not have breast milk. So I feed her yam (thin soup made from over-cooked kamoteng-kahoy, a root crop).
SISTER JO – You have to eat leafy vegetables, so you will have breast milk.
WOMAN – We don’t eat vegetables, sister, because there’s plenty of fish.
SISTER JO – It is so easy to plant kamote (a vegetable vine), which has plenty of iron. From now on, eat talbos ng kamote (the shoots), otherwise your baby will die.
The woman nodded. Sister Jo examined the baby, then applied acupressure with her thumb on the woman’s chest in between her breasts. My hair stood on end when, within three minutes, while she talked to the woman, the milk flowed. The woman was in tears.
In the evening, the fisherman-husband of the woman brought us fresh fish from his catch. This was the magic of poverty. The poor were capable of returning the love you give them with what they have, even if they had no money. Sr. Jo never charged the peasants.
Next came a young man who lost his sense of hearing when he was electrocuted. During the lean dry season, men go up the electric posts to tap electricity using two cables with rods at the end. They would apply electricity on ponds dried up into mud to kill dalag (mud fish) and hito (catfish), native delicacies. This was the cheap way to fish if one did not have a boat. The young man was electrocuted and fell from the post. Sr. Jo took out her acupuncture needles and placed two each on the temples, and two each on the sides of the nose close to the eyes. I was expecting another miracle.
ME – Sister, will he be able to hear when you’re finished?
SISTER JO – No. It’s not instant. I have to apply acupuncture weekly for a few weeks. I am not even sure I can heal him. It’s a chance, but there is nothing to lose. Even modern hospitals may not be able to heal him. Acupuncture is mysterious and magical. He has a chance to heal.
ME – Sister, where do you get funds for your program?
SISTER JO – I have no funds, just my own little travel and food allowance. When the peasants find out my project is funded by World Bank or ADB, they drool for handouts. This destroys the project because you make them dependent. The key in health care for the very poor is self-reliance. I conduct health workshops for peasants. They bring their own food for the two-day workshops. Some take three-hour hikes, bringing their babies.
ME – Wow. How do you motivate them?
SISTER JO – No need. They see the value of being their own doctors when a child is sick. Also, they see that, when they set up their own community herbal garden, they have free medicine from their own drug store. They set up these gardens at no expense.
Sister Jo distributed photos showing acupressure points on the body that would heal specific ailments. For example, S26 below the knee relieved menstrual spasm. She gave them a list of what ailments herbs can cure from a Filipino herbal medicine book. The peasants easily identified the herbs. The program without funds had tremendous reach and impact, encompassing many outlying villages. The peasants were instant paramedics and herbalists.
The New People’s Army (NPA) adopted a similar program. The program of health self-reliance spread like wildfire across the poverty-stricken landscape. Sister Jo said the key was ‘to not impose but empower’. She passed away decades ago, but left an imprint of love on poor rural folks, a Filipino version of Mother Teresa.
The DOH must look into alternative Eastern Medicine programs to complement Western Medicine, which is irrelevant in poor distant villages. The poor have the right to good health.
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Author’s Credentials. Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo University) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN, ex-TVS Tokyo) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.