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On Privileges and Serving to the Barrios

By Alberto Antonio Jr.

On one of our family reunions sometime in 2012, my Tita was teasing my mother for crying after watching a TV episode of “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho.” In that episode, a doctor was riding a habal-habal to reach a far-flung barangay. “Si Albert ‘yan! Magiging ganiyan siya!” said my mom while sobbing (for some reason).

A photo in Eastern Samar, before going to medical school.

When I took up BS Health Sciences, a pre-medical course in Ateneo de Manila University back in 2010, I thought it was pre-determined already that I proceed to medical school right after graduation. It took an 8-day Ignatian silent retreat during my senior year to realize that life had other plans for me. For some reason, I wanted to serve in the peripheries. Serendipitously, there was a call for volunteers from Jesuit Volunteers Philippines to be assigned in post-Yolanda Eastern Samar.

In 2015, I distinctly remember being in Brgy. San Isidro, Eastern Samar. It was a far-flung barangay where we trekked for hours from the main road just to get there. I was assigned to give basic first aid training to barangay health workers. I thought I was going to impart knowledge to them but had no idea that it would be the other way around. When I saw the poor state of public health in that area, how residents were barely able to access medical services, how badly I wanted the area to be healthier, and how incredibly limited I felt, at that moment, I decided I wanted to become a doctor – to help these kinds of people. I was apprehensive of going into medical school prior, but after that epiphany, to become a doctor was the surest decision I had ever made.

When I entered Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health in 2016, I was bracing myself for a marathon of challenges. No sweat, I thought, I just had to remember my “why” to keep me through, but it wasn’t that simple after all. The rigors of studying, of taking exams, of failing exams, then repeating the cycle, of working in hospitals and doing 30+ hour shifts, they were all too much way too many times. At certain points, I needed to take therapy and medications to aid my mental health. In the end, through God’s grace, when I passed my Physician Licensure Exam last November 2020, everything fell into place. My dreams for those in the peripheries, for better public healthcare for Filipinos, they all seemed one step closer. One decision led to another, and here I am now, a Doctor to the Barrio, assigned here in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur, as a Municipal Health Officer.

We all have our “privilege list,” some more than others. However, as this privilege list begins to overwhelm me, I realize that very little of it, or if any of it at all even, came directly from my choices, my control, my doing. I did not earn and most certainly did not deserve these. Sitting on this whirlpool of undeserved privileges, I realize that the ONLY logical thing to do is to share this with others, to give back. I have more than enough, and I want those that I have met in Brgy. San Isidro, those that I am meeting here in Lanuza, and those I have yet to meet elsewhere, to experience the same joy.

As I write this, I am currently preparing for my trip to one of our far-flung barangays through a habal-habal, much like what my mother was bawling about from that TV episode years ago. Sharing my privilege to this barangay does not entail me supplying the residents with free consults and free medicines. It is about advocating for these people to experience the same privileges as me, and that involves me being heaven-bent on fixing this broken health system that has kept them marginalized for so long.

The moment we realize how truly blessed we are, the easier it will be for us to be truly generous to others. In the end, we realize that the greatest privilege of them all is not about what we have, but how we can share it with others.

Alberto Antonio Jr is a graduate of BS Health Sciences at Ateneo de Manila University. In college, he was the President of Kythe-Ateneo and represented his organization as a finalist for Ten Outstanding Youth Organization in 2013. After college, in 2015, he joined the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines and was assigned as a community organizer in post-Yolanda Eastern Samar for one year. There, he decided to enroll in Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health in 2015 which made him passionate on public health. He was awarded as Best Medical Intern for Pediatric and ENT Department at The Medical City. After passing the boards in 2020, he joined Doctors to the Barrios and was assigned as a Municipal Health Officer and Rural Health Physician in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur. Currently, he is heading the vaccination campaign in Lanuza, along with the other DOH programs and services.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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