Like many boons of Asia's growing
prosperity, decent health care is very unevenly distributed. Excellence for
the few, yes. But for most, the region's ill-equipped, understaffed public
clinics and hospitals must somehow suffice. For the poorest, there is often
nothing at all. Such a state of affairs, says SISTER EVA FIDELA MAAMO of the
Philippines, belies the inherent right of the poor to be healthy. This is
why SISTER EVA, a surgeon, works for the poor.
Born in 1940 in the small island town of Liloan, Southern Leyte, Eva MAAMO
matriculated at the Velez College of Medicine in Cebu and, for a year or
two, practiced at her family's clinic in Liloan. But she soon moved on to
Manila where she honored a childhood vow to enter the Sisters of St. Paul of
Chartres. As SISTER EVA, she volunteered in 1974 to help establish a medical
mission on the shores of Lake Sebu in Mindanao. There she built a crude
bamboo infirmary and treated T'bolis, Manobos, and other hill folk from the
surrounding mountains. Far from ready supplies and with only the simplest
instruments to work with, SISTER EVA performed miracles of
improvisation—operating by flashlight and substituting coconut water for
dextrose. To expand health services beyond her tiny clinic, she trained
local men and women to serve as "barefoot doctors" in isolated villages
scattered across the hills.
Returning to Manila in 1980, SISTER EVA honed her skills at Philippine
General Hospital and, at her Order's direction, set out to revitalize a
small neighborhood clinic. In Singalong she witnessed firsthand the squalid
life of Manila's teeming poor. Working through Our Lady of Peace Mission,
which she founded in 1986, she was soon extending a helping hand to needy
communities throughout the city.
Today, SISTER EVA maintains no-fee health clinics in ten Manila squatter
areas and provides nutritious meals daily to malnourished children in six of
them. In the same communities, there are livelihood and micro-credit
programs to lift indigent adults from mendicancy to work. In her Mission's
shelters, street children and abused women find safe haven; through its
scholarship program, hundreds of poor youths can afford to attend school.
SISTER EVA is now devoted to completing her latest project, a charity
hospital for the poor of Manila.
But SISTER EVA has spread her healing wings far beyond Manila. Following a
calamitous earthquake and floods in the early 1990s, she led medical teams
to the devastated regions. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, she
developed a comprehensive resettlement project to help hundreds of displaced
Aetas start a new life. Four times every year, moreover, SISTER EVA leads
weeklong medical missions to far-flung sites across the country. To date,
over forty thousand indigent patients have been treated by her volunteer
doctors, nurses, and dentists. In similar missions, she and other Filipino
surgeons have removed tumors, repaired cleft palates, extracted cataracts,
and cured myriad other ills in thousands of free operations—usually working
from dawn till dusk in makeshift operating rooms.
Diminutive SISTER EVA is a dynamo of quiet determination who leads by
example. Late into an exhausting day of surgery, her volunteer doctors drive
themselves to continue, they say, "because SISTER EVA is continuing." She
herself is inspired by Jesus' teaching to care for "the least of My
brethren." This SISTER EVA does tirelessly, with no thought for herself.
Addressing the needs of the poor, she says, is her country's "most crying
need." Besides, she adds, "Working with the poor is a joy.
In electing SISTER EVA FIDELA MAAMO to receive the 1997 Ramon Magsaysay
Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes her
compelling example in bringing humane assistance and the healing arts to the