I was blessed with an opportunity to intern for Roots of Health for 10-weeks this past summer (May 2014-July 2014). Roots of Health is an organization that has dedicated itself to an important mission in the communities of Puerto Princesa: Reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies and the incidence of maternal mortality and empowering women/girls to make informed decisions about their health and their bodies. The leadership team at Roots of Health is compassionate, sensible, and determined to make a difference, and their determination shows. In the six communities in which Roots of Health works, their clients receive both clinical services as well as education. In addition, Roots of Health strives to ensure the sustainability of its work by teaching and empowering local women within the communities to become Community Health Advocates. Everyday I was there, I was continually struck by the importance of this organization and the wonderful work it is doing within the communities. Although I am now back in the US, I think often of my time at Roots of Health and fully intend to return someday!
Roots of Health is a unique organization because it not only provides direct access to reproductive healthcare for high need communities in Puerto Princesa but also addresses the systemic issues that make them a community of high need. Their educational efforts reach both adolescents and mothers in the classroom and in their neighborhoods to empower them with the tools necessary to embrace their sexuality, take responsibility of their reproductive health, become self-sufficient, and empower those around them.
This is a small but dynamic organisation effectively implementing programs for maternal and child health. It is also the first non-government organisation in this part of the country engage in reproductive health. The need is great but this organisation is making an impact little by little with the programs and services they offer.
Working at Roots of Health was one of the best experiences I had. It was an honor to become a part of an organization that is committed and dedicated to its clients.
As an organization focused on improving the health of women, girls, and their communities , ROH is doing a great job in keeping pregnant moms in the communities they serve healthy and ready for the responsibilities of becoming a parent.
ROH also makes a big difference in the lives of the students in Puerto Princesa. As one of the teachers, I saw how important the role of ROH is in preventing unplanned pregnancy among the students. Nobody wants to see a teenager's life and future destroyed because of unplanned pregnancy. ROH helps prevent that from happening. They empower students with information so they can make informed choices with regards to their sexuality and sexual behavior.
Working with the staff and the clients closely, I saw how significant and important the work ROH is doing. Seeing and experiencing first hand the successes of the organization in achieving its goals and objectives, I am proud that I was a part of it.
Roots of Health is a fantastic organization that fulfills a real need in the Philippines. As a board member, I am so proud of the work that we do and know that every penny raised is used in a meaningful way. The impact that our work has on the communities that we work with and beyond is immeasurable -- what could be more important than helping to foster healthy pregnancies, babies, and families??! We continue to try and find ways to improve our efforts and broaden our outreach and I have no doubt great things are in Roots of Health's future.
ROH is an NGO genuinely committed to improving the health and rights of poor families and students in Palawan. They do this through health services in poor communities and education in-school and out-of-school. They also improve policies by linking communities with policymakers at the local and national levels. What they have is health-and-development model worth supporting and replicating.
I have been an avid supporter and donor of ROH since they launched. The team is doing phenomenal work in Palawan and its been a pleasure to see how they have grown and expanded from one site working with women's reproductive issues to many sites and serving more needs in the community (teaching financial education, how to grow food, teen programs, etc)
I visited one of the sites several years ago and am impressed by how much this small non-profit is able to accomplish with so little resources.
I volunteered with Roots of Health in November of 2013 and my first impression was that the people who worked there genuinely cared about the people they served. They did not simply focus on the objectives of the programs, but also on every single mother and young person they worked with, making sure that they knew their concerns and were responsive to their needs. Roots of Health sufficiently valued and respected their clients, and believed in authentic participation from them.
The Roots of Health team is a talented and inspired group of people. They work hard toward a common goal and it was amazing to see how they constantly made an effort to evaluate their curriculum as well as themselves as teachers. Creating a positive impact on the lives of women is seen as a collective responsibility of the whole team, regardless of what their specific roles were. They taught and learned from each other and understood the importance of having a work environment that was receptive to ideas and feedback, which I believe contributes a lot to the success of their program as it evolves based on the clients' needs and the different contexts they operate in.
This is the little NGO that could. i have seen this organisation grow through the years and am thoroughly impressed by their efficiency, focus, and ability to promote reproductive health in a highly conservative environment like the rural areas of Palawan in The Philippines. In a highly Catholic country, their work is not only pioneering but brave. Their approach is also holistic - targeting not only mothers and the urban poor but also the youth and students.
If you’ve followed the news lately, you see can why the Philippines can be a very difficult place to live for many people. With numerous natural disasters, corruption, widespread poverty, and many other issues influencing people’s well-being, it has been quite a challenge to service the health needs of many communities- especially those that live in isolated, rural, and underserved settings like Palawan.
Roots of Health, however, faces this challenge head on. At its core, it utilizes a two-pronged approach to address the immediate and long-term reproductive and maternal health needs of the six communities and numerous schools that it partners with. And in the two months that I interned there, I was able to see just how much this organization is able to accomplish.
On one hand, access to clinical services allows ROH to address the current reproductive health needs. The clinical staff provides communities with access to contraceptives, pregnancy tests, prenatal services, delivery assistance, and post-natal check ups- all of which help reduce unwanted pregnancies and complications associated with pregnancies and deliveries. In addition to this, the nurses teach maternal health sessions to the communities in order to facilitate discussion about a wider range of topics (relationships, parenting, pregnancy, contraception, etc.), combat misconceptions about sexual health, and empower women to make educated health-related choices.
I was fortunate enough to visit Aplaya, a beachside community, during one of the early maternal health sessions about relationships. We had over 70 women come; there wasn’t even enough seating for all of them! There, they talked about expectations of relationships and participated in team-building activities, which laid the foundation for later discussions of more difficult topics like sex. After this, the clinical services started. The two nurses saw an overwhelming amount of women; while one did prenatal checkups for more than 10 pregnant women, the other provided depo shots, birth control pills, and condoms to many women who previously did not want to take them. With trust, knowledge, and access, many women were able to choose how they wanted to execute their reproductive rights. It really was a powerful thing to watch.
On the other hand, education about sexual and reproductive health changes the norms and corrects misconceptions about this topic, eventually leading to long-term social changes. The teaching team works with schools to address the reproductive health needs of students. They meticulously plan appropriate lessons that demonstrate rather than lecture students about this topic. They often have to find innovative ways to teach subjects without offending teachers and principals who are less open to discussions about sex. They sometimes have to travel over an hour to reach these sites. Yet despite these challenges, the teachers leave the students with both knowledge and an open, non-judgmental resource to turn to- two very important assets that students can use in any tough decisions that they face.
I was also fortunate enough to watch the teaching team in action as they taught a class at a local college. The topic was about the reproductive system, how pregnancy occurs, and STDs. As the video about fertilization played, there was awe in the student’s faces. Similarly, a simulation about the spread of STDs using colored paper and signatures provided an interactive way of showing them how fast an STD can spread if the given precautions were not taken. The game was both fun and informative. In addition to the classes, the teachers provide students with a hotline that they can anonymously call or text at any time. They range of topics include questions about sex, contraception, pregnancy, sexuality, and more, and the teachers take time outside of the classroom and lesson planning to address these individual needs and concerns.
In addition to this, ROH has recently expanded its programming to include vertical gardening and financial literacy- two aspects that also influence health. They are also training Community Health Advocates (CHAs) and Student Health Advocates (SHAs) to help with program implementation and help build trust in the communities and schools. And this is all done with a core staff of 11.
Roots of Health is really a great organization that does so much with such limited resources. It helps the underserved find their voice and demand their rights. It offers the resources for individuals to be more in charge of their health. It provides the much needed action when policy and government cannot. But most of all, it has simply improved the lives of countless people in Palawan. And because of this, it can use all the support it can get.
I didn’t really know what to expect as we drove up to Pulang Lupa. It’s hard to fully grasp the gravity of this community’s situation without seeing it first hand. Mercury mining has left most of the hills that surround Pulang Lupa a rich shade of red, and years of mercury excavation has devastated the land. If that were the only environmental concern there, cleaning up what the mining did to the soil would be daunting enough, but Pulang Lupa is also down the hill from an active landfill. Remnants of the trash from the landfill litter the red earth of the barangay. Leakage from what is disposed of at the landfill compounds the negative ecological impact this confluence of disastrous environmental conditions has on this already tenuous community. That’s what you see when you drive into Pulang Lupa, what appears to be unmanageable environmental degradation.
What you don’t see is a sense of hopelessness from the people. You see a vibrancy and resiliency in the women participating in the sessions. You see active engagement and inquiry by nearly all the women, thoroughly excited by the opportunity for improvements in the public health of Pulang Lupa. You see happy and playful children, seemingly indifferent to their difficult living conditions. You see people determined to improve their standard of living, despite long odds, and you see people resourceful and industrious enough to do it. You can’t help but be inspired by the unabashed hopefulness of the people you encounter there. The Roots of Health sessions for the women are lively and engaging. The educational sessions for the children look like any exuberant primary school class in the developed world, with children singing and clapping and chomping at the bit to answer questions. As dire as their surroundings appear to be, the community of Pulang Lupa is as alive as any I’ve encountered.
I am particularly interested in their burgeoning interest in the vertical gardening opportunities provided by Roots of Health. Most of the soil that could be used for planting is contaminated due to landfill run off and mercury excavation. They really can’t utilize the soil to its full potential. These vertical gardens are amazingly simple structures that allow people to plant vegetables above the ground using clean and nutrient rich soil. The gardens are plastic cylinders with holes cut out on the sides and an irrigation system using rocks in the center of the soil. You can plant virtually anything in these ingenious devices. Being a part of the preparation of these gardens has me thinking about other niche communities they could be used in. The way I see it, what holds urban farming back is accessibility to adequate space and proper soil. Vertical gardens theoretically solve these problems by effectively utilizing the available space in urban plots. As a city person, I know the paucity of healthy food options in indigent urban neighborhoods, and these garden prototypes could provide a nutritious alternative to what is currently offered.
Although my time with ROH has been brief, it’s clear to me that their presence in Pulang Lupa has benefited the people in so many ways. Women are often the backbones of communities in the developing world. Their empowerment is essential for progress in many vital public health areas. I commend ROH for their comprehensive program at Pulang Lupa, from the reproductive health seminars to their vertical gardening. They provide necessary services to this disenfranchised community off-the-radar screen and without most social services we are all accustomed to. Of all the lasting memories I will take with me, the most salient will definitely be the smiles of the people I encountered there. They are as effulgent as the sunlight that ceaselessly pours down from the sky all over the 7,000 Philippine islands.
In February 2010, I visited Palawan and saw first hand the great work that Roots of Health is doing. During my stay, I joined the Executive Director and several volunteers on a visit to Pulang Lupa, one of the communities Roots of Health currently serves.
Pulang Lupa sits on an abandoned mercury mine, has no source of running water, and only a fraction of the families can afford to send their children to school. Even so, Roots of Health has been able to offer a healthy start for many in the community. The organization offers regular classes on family planning and healthy pregnancies to women and girls in the community, introduced a vertical farming system so that families can grow food without worrying about the mercury-contaminated soil, and provides much-needed vitamins and minerals to the children of Pulang Lupa through a regular nutritional support program.
When I visited in last year I helped out with the nutritional support program. For 4,164 pesos (the equivalent of roughly $90) we fed almost 100 children and even had enough leftover to feed some of Pulang Lupa’s pregnant women and mothers. All in all, it only took less than a dollar to feed each child of Pulang Lupa. Visiting Pulang Lupa and helping out with the nutritional support program showed me just how Roots of Health can make a difference in this community with $50, $20, even $10.
I have seen what Roots of Health does firsthand, and I commend the group's efforts. In a country like the Philippines, poverty, ignorance and overpopulation are problems that many people choose to ignore. Roots of Health chooses to face these daunting challenges head-on.
Any group that battles apathy and ignorance deserves our support. Roots of Health is one such organization.
Roots of Health is an impressive organization that has accomplished a tremendous amount since their founding. The model is very hands on and rooted in field work/direct work with the communities they serve. The impact is real and powerful - for the individuals in the communities as well as for the people that work for Roots! As someone who doesn't have the benefit of being on the ground I am grateful for the quality of the website, facebook page, blog and periodic updates. I feel that Roots is truly accountable to donors.