The 'No Handguns' sign at the front door and the armed security guard prowling the deserted and dusty foyer give you the strong hint that this isn’t like any hospital you’ll visit in New Zealand. The words “You’re not at Starship now, Doctor Ropata” cross my mind.
I’ve travelled to Manila to film a Kiwi medical mission repairing the cleft palates of children living in poverty. On the first set-up day at the hospital, dust bunnies drift across the lino as the surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and the sole dentist lug box after box of supplies in from the bus. Everything has been meticulously packed and labelled, and is checked off the list by Hector Gonzales, a Kiwi-Filipino nurse who acts as Mission Coordinator.
Upstairs we check out the operating theatres — primitive by New Zealand standards — but empty and ready for the young patients who will flood through the doors for the next week. The team take over this hospital, on the outskirts of Manila, with the screening of patients, their subsequent operations, and care in the postoperative wards. One operating theatre is kept clear and ready for the unexpected — the odd car crash, stabbing or gunshot wounds —while the three others will be put to good use changing the lives of Filipino children.
Operation Restore Hope NZ has been coming to Manila annually since 2002, and this week they are expecting the four operating teams to perform as many as a hundred procedures in five days. Everything they provide the children is free, though ironically, they themselves will pay fees to use the hospital’s facilities.
For the Kiwis here, the financial burden is significant. The team take annual leave from their jobs at New Zealand hospitals, or leave their own private practices to participate. In addition to lost wages, there are airfares and accommodation to find, and some pay sizable excess baggage costs to get their surgical instruments to the Philippines. The heat is unrelenting, it’s noisy, and the traffic is horrendous. Basic things don’t always work – the power here is subject to blackouts at worst, and brown-outs at best — it’s where the voltage drops to a level barely able to run the dim fluorescent lighting and the anaesthetic equipment.
It seems madness to leave the comfortable surrounds of a Remuera plastic surgery practice to spend a week here, but when you meet head surgeon Tristan de Chalain, it starts to make perfect sense. In an operation of just one or two hour’s duration, de Chalain can dramatically change the life of a child. Without ORH’s help, that surgery would be impossible. The look of gratitude on the faces of the parents when they see their child, post op, is something that keeps him going through a long year of paid work in Auckland.
It’s basic human kindness that drives the work of Operation Restore Hope. These Kiwis give everything in one gruelling week to change the lives of children they’ve never met before and probably never will again. On Operation Restore Hope, you’ll see some of the one hundred compelling reasons why kindness is good for you.
- Amanda Evans runs production company Pacific Screen with cameraman Ivars Berzins. Evans produced 10 episodes of New Zealand Stories, including Operation Restore Hope. She wrote this piece when the episode first screened on TV One, on 14 August 2011 at 11.30am.