BACOLOD CITY – One of the things that Nia Zalamea remembers growing up in a Filipino household is the grand practice of the balikbayan box.
The balikbayan box — a Filipino symbol of love, generosity, and close familial ties among households that have at least one family member working abroad – would often contain ordinary grocery items that would otherwise be found in any mall.
For Nia, a general surgeon based in Memphis Tennessee, her – and her family’s – balikbayan box would be safe, affordable, and quality surgical care for everybody regardless of their status in life.
And that was why she, father Renato and mother Norma, organized a groundbreaking celebration at the Nature’s Village over the weekend (October 5) to forge partnerships with interested benefactors who are willing to see them accomplish and pull together the metaphorical balikbayan box.
For that “box” to be completed, it needs an infrastructure, specifically a six-operating room, 40-inpatient room facility that would help provide safe, affordable, and most important quality health care for everybody, especially those who can ill afford it.
They plan to put up such a structure this time in Victorias.
FINDING PARTNERS IN THE MISSION
The Zalamea family had been in and out of the Philippines since Renato and Norma immigrated to the US in the 1970s. Father Renato, a nurse anesthesist, was responsible for founding Memphis Mission of Mercy, an idea that he came up with after serving a health care mission overseas more than 20 years ago.
Since then, they have served not less than 25 communities through affordable health care, with an accumulated value of about $17 million worth.
That kind of service, Nia says, is something she wants replicated, but that could only be done through “partnerships”, to people who want to see through the project’s sustainability.
There is, after all, a need to integrate the quality health care into the system, and that could only be done if the community itself is galvanized behind the effort.
“That’s why we are here,” Nia tells DNX, “the key is finding those partners, and sharing to them that we want to be integrative. My father jokes that we are equal-opportunity beggars. And that is the thing. We will ask anyone (willing to help).”
SERVING (ESPECIALLY) THE POOR
Nia is especially concerned about helping the poor, that segment in society that is often marginalized and could not afford quality health care.
Quality health care, she says, is especially important to those the poor, since the impacts on their lives are greater.
“Quality is important because the poor cannot afford complications,” Nia explains, adding that a repeat operation, an infection or even a complication would mean loss of work hours, or loss of income.
That kind of accessibility to safe, affordable surgical care should be a right that everybody should enjoy and not just those that could afford it, or those with insurance.
It is a good thing, she says, that such a right has already been recognized by the United Nations (“Shocking why that was not the case to begin with.”).
Their project – the one they want to build in Victorias – would ensure that THAT right would be enjoyed.
The poor’s reality when it comes to health care should no longer be about the long waits, the second-rate service, or the leftovers when it comes to supplies.
“We should give this high quality care that we want ourselves for them,” she says.
And that could only be done by community’s generosity in seeing the project through.