A river boat in Iloilo, Philippines

Choosing an elective in Iloilo

When the opportunity arose to undertake an overseas medical elective with Work the World – an overseas elective organisation – the Philippines immediately stood out. I had always wanted to travel to the archipelago, and recommendations from friends who had already been there – confirming it to be a stunning destination with overwhelming natural beauty – sealed the deal.

While researching Iloilo, I found myself reading about the Village Healthcare Experience (VHE) – an optional week living like a local and working in a small district hospital near a village on a small Filipino island. 

It felt like the perfect opportunity to learn about the rural side of the Philippines, to understand more about how the locals live and was very different to being in the hospital environment in the city, so I went for it.

Radha Metha cooking.
Bananas and fruit stall.
Radha Metha exploring.

Eye-opening hospital experiences

During our stay, we were accompanied by Mia, our guide and translator. She was wonderful and made our time in the village extra special. She came to collect us after breakfast on our first day, and took us to the hospital in which we would spend our weekday mornings.

This district hospital was a lot smaller than the one we would go to in Iloilo, but I was pleasantly surprised because it was better resourced than I had assumed. For example, in the busy OBG (obstetrics and gynaecology) department, mothers were well looked after because the ratio of doctors to patients was good and it was fairly well equipped. The staff at the district hospital were some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met.

I saw some interesting cases during my time there, which was split between OBG, paediatrics, and emergency departments. 

I saw children suffering from severe hand, foot and mouth disease with large lesions on their faces and mouths. This was eye-opening, as it wasn’t something I’d seen back in the UK. Conditions like this would normally be diagnosed and treated much earlier.

Another activity I found particularly valuable was visiting the local health clinic. It was in the heart of the community and few patients had contact time with hospitals. It was used mostly by new mothers. Whilst we were there, some of the nurses were teaching the community about specific common diseases, many of which were uncommon in the UK.

Radha Metha and colleagues at hospital.
Iloilo, Philippines.
Radha Metha and friends.

Embracing the community spirit

During our stay I lived with a Filipino family, along with two other students and our guide, which helped me to gain a perspective on what it means to be part of the trademark tight-knit Filipino rural community. Back in the busy city we were living in relative luxury, so it was nice to go back to basics and enjoy the simplicity of tribal village life.

We arrived at the village during the rainy season. There was a massive downpour that caused a power cut, which was actually quite exciting as Mama Lucy – our host – had cooked an amazing array of traditional snacks and lit candles for us to eat by. A particular favourite was sticky rice cooked in banana leaves with fresh coconut. This was the first taste of some of the best food I had during my time in the country. Mama Lucy dried our clothes, which was a relief after the journey from the mainland.

On our first morning, we awoke to an enormous, home-cooked breakfast. I can’t emphasise enough how delicious the food was during our week in the village. All the locals know how to cook the best, most authentic Filipino food from fresh, homegrown ingredients. Mama Lucy grew all her own fruits and vegetables at home, and the flavours were amazing.

In the evenings, we spent time with the family, playing games, chatting and relaxing. Learning from Mama Lucy’s family about what island life was like, and how they are treated as indigenous people, was fascinating.

We made jewellery, played basketball with the local children, learned to weave – and even though I was terrible at it, I did manage to weave a little purse to take home. One afternoon, we went to a beach and half the village came with us. On the drive home, we enjoyed stunning views of the island’s rolling hills.

A beach scene in the Philippines.
Radha Metha and friends making jewellery.
Garin Farm, Miagao, province of Iloilo City, Philippines.

Making lasting connections

On our last day, we wanted to pack as much in as possible. We visited the hospital in the morning and said our goodbyes to the local staff. 

In the afternoon, we drove to a windmill farm and visited a herbal medicine practitioner. I was particularly interested in this as a student of ‘Western’ medicine. The practitioner was one of the village elders. It was fascinating to see the different leaves, herbs and spices he used. Ingredients were boiled in water or crushed to make traditional remedies.

We made amazing memories during our time in the village and the send-off the children gave us was truly unforgettable. They sang us songs, wrote poems, and made us feel as though we’d made a real connection with the community. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end. Life in the village exceeded my every expectation. My advice, if you're considering a week in the village? Do it!

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