Aloha Medical Mission


I had meant to be a medical practitioner had I not changed career directions due to various forces, not the least of which was my low threshold for shattered bones and muscles with gushing blood flows. I began holding hands with female nurses while contemplating entry into medical school until it became habitual, so I curtailed the proclivity “for the integrity of the profession.”

My youngest sister became a nurse and married a dentist; my immediate younger brother married a nurse who often double-shifted in her nursing employment in Hawaii. All four are involved in the upcoming medical, surgical, and dental mission of the Aloha Medical Mission on Feb. 10 to 14 in Tuguegarao, Cagayan, Philippines led by Dr. Lisa Grininger of Hawaii.

My brother organized and recruited this one. There is the added incentive of having resided in Tuguegarao as a member of a Methodist clergy family in the ’60s. A retired pastor, he presently chaplains Honolulu’s finest in the line of uniformed blue, among many of the roles he plays. He recruited this AMM, though this is not his first; he organized this one while his nurse wife handled the preliminary logistics. An active Rotarian and community leader, he is a low-key volunteer sans the usual flair and flourish of the egomaniac but he gets the job done.

AMM’s outside of Hawaii are typically 10-15 days in length, including travel time. A lot of the volunteers originating from the Philippines are visiting home, too, or have relatives living there. They will visit relations prior to or after the five-day 8-hour per day work, before returning to Hawaii. Volunteers attend to their own costs!

I am not particular in promoting the volunteer work of AMM (in the past, their work on reconstructive cleft lip and palate surgery was often criticized as simply cosmetic, a critique I do not share) as I encourage universal engagement in the whole arena of social service volunteer work. Civilization focused on the commercial aspect of medical service as a means to accumulate wealth (of well-paid surgeons and GPs) when originally the intent of profits was to ensure continuity of service. With the refusal of Americans to develop a system of universal health care on grounds of abrogating individuals’ options to choose, the rationale is increasingly appearing less to do with freedom as it is a protest of professionals who benefit from incongruous medical costs and fees. AMM shows the more human side of the profession.

Living in China, the glamour of volunteers showed itself to be appealing in the Beijing 2008 Olympics followed by Shanghai 2010 Expo. The traditions of the March of the Volunteers and the young Lei Feng in China came alive again. OK, we are not all familiar with the history of post-1912 China so let me peg the March and Lei Feng in history.

The March of the Volunteers is a poem by Tian Han in 1934 extolling those who fought against the expansive Japanese, those who choose noble death rather than ignoble breath. It was put into music in 1935 and was adopted as the revolutionary anthem in 1949. The author of the lyrics fell into disfavor during the Cultural Revolution so the anthem was shelved, though not discarded. In 1969, the PRC started playing it again, with some modifications in lyric in 1978. Finally the Tian Han original was restored in ’82. In 2004, it was officially made the national anthem of the nation. It is called Qilai, “Arise” for those curious. The image of the nation propelled forward by volunteers is not the common view of China’s revolution.

The other image-making target of a volunteer was a young man named Lei Feng. An orphan who joined the Communist youth corps and then the transportation unit of the PLA at 20, he is not your normal image of a hero who reached extraordinary heights of passion and died in the heat of battle. In fact, Lei Feng died at 21 directing a backing vehicle while a truck struck a telephone pole that hit him in the head. You could not get more anti-heroic than that. But Lei Feng is hailed for his selflessness and altruism, not for the heroism of a feat, but for the graciousness of a strangely warmed heart revealed in a journal he kept. And you thought the Chinese revolution was anti-religious!

The mythology surrounding Lei Feng is criticized for becoming a personality cult promoting Mao. Anyone familiar with Sinosphere tradition, it extols the personae of a leader, not because it is cultic in the religious sense, but because the honor bestowed on any of its living elders, and the dead, particularly of ancestors, is of paramount virtue.

In the last decade, China increasingly engaged its corps of volunteers!

Now back to the Aloha from Hula land. The volunteers of AMM are commended for their efforts. Cleft lip and palate surgery are critical for children’s self-image. The evidence written of its value is voluminous.

For one who considers Tuguegarao as his last hometown in the Philippines, I shall symbiotically attend to the Aloha Medical Mission this month. And we mean that beyond just writing this article.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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