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Agusan Marsh Project in the Philippines

Attired in formal Philippine “Barongs,” gifts from their Rotary hosts in Mindanao, Bob Dorr and Jim Buckley reported on the project to launch a combined library and health center boat in the Agusan Marsh. Bob, Jim and Ed Raschen (Rotary Club of Carson City), traveled to the Philippines in December on a Rotary International Volunteer Discovery Grant to assess the viability of the project. Their objectives were to make critical assessments of the needs; the viability of the boat as a solution; the reliability of partner Rotary Clubs; support from local agencies; and the sustainability of the project. They learned that there were modest educational programs in the Marsh supported by the volunteer organization, Save Mindanao. There are no health facilities in the Marsh and there is urgent need for health care.

The most pressing problems are the very high infant and maternal mortality rates. Known to be many times more than the already high mortality rates for the country as a whole, exact numbers are not available because most births and deaths are not reported to the government. Historically, the people in the Marsh have been “invisible” to the government, receiving no services whatsoever. They live in bamboo shacks, built on logs to float when the water levels rise. There is no electricity, no plumbing and no sewage. Children do not wear shoes and diseases resulting from parasites entering through cuts in the skin are very common. Common infectious diseases include scabies, acute gastroenteritis, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, and malaria. These are all endemic in the area and prevention and treatment protocols are already established by the health department. The challenge is to reach the community on a sustained and regular basis to educate, diagnose and treat them. A mobile floating health facility should be able to do this. It would also give the full range immunization shots to the children.

The partner Rotary Clubs are highly capable, dedicated to the project and have a proven record of service to the community. Instead of the four partner clubs as initially planned, there are now seven partner clubs. Those closest to the Marsh already have established efforts to serve the populations there. By alternating oversight responsibility for the project, each club will oversee the operation of the floating health center for one month out of every seven. We have absolute confidence in the integrity and the ability of the partner clubs to fulfill their commitments to the project. Meetings with governmental agencies confirm support from the Provincial Governor, the Department of Health, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. They are working together with the partner Rotary Clubs to assure that the boat is built and equipped to receive accreditation as a rural health unit. Once accredited, the national insurance will reimburse the Local Government Unit for services offered on the boat. This will ensure funding that will sustain the operation of the boat on a permanent basis without the need for further financial support from Rotary.

Pressing health needs dictate that the project be a floating health center and not a library boat. Specifically, it will be a birthing center and general health clinic. It will have a delivery room, a consultation room and small library and lecture facility. There will be a full-time midwife and varying numbers of clinical aids on board. Radio communications will connect to a physician as needed and the local government is committed to transport a physician to the boat when necessary.

In addition to assessing the project, Bob, Ed and Jim learned of the many other projects being accomplished by Rotary Clubs in Butuan, Surigao and San Francisco. They are serving poor communities with child care, a home for abused girls, a home for street children, a home for abandoned aged and many in many other ways. They provide potable water to schools and villages. The needs are many, varied and often urgent. The good news is that it does not requiregreat sums of money to make a difference and to save lives. With the ties now established with partner clubs, the potential for future projects appears unlimited. Jim Buckley has a documented the trip and the potential for future projects in more detail than will be of general interest. However, anyone wishing more information about the project or the potential for other projects is encouraged to contact him.

Project Progress Report as of May 7, 2008: Boat construction continues and is scheduled for completion by the end of May. Both hulls of the catamaran are now complete. The hulls have been moved to the riverside. The floor of the boat has been constructed and installed, connecting the two hulls for the first time. Books for the library have been donated by Elsivier Publishing Company. The boat is planned to be in service by early June.

As of this date, there are ten Rotary Clubs in California and Nevada that have contributed to the funding of this project. There are seven host partner clubs in Mindanao. Participating Rotary Clubs are:

California and Nevada Supporting Rotary Clubs Mindanao Partners Related Information
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