Discover Philippines Foundation

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9:49 AM
March 19th, 2011

Dreaming of Discovery

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or at least so the old kid’s mantra goes. When life is hard, you should do everything you can to turn your pessimism into optimism, and to turn your suffering into joy. As students in the Special Science Program, however, we often forget to be happy - what with all our personal problems at home and in our relationships, coupled with the constant dread of being removed from the Science classes. Our group concedes these facts. Yes, we do say that we no longer want to learn, and that we just want to stay home all day and play computer games. But all that changed today.

For today, our group went to Benguet General Hospital, located across Benguet State University in La Trinidad, Benguet, and visited two patients who changed our lives forever. Benguet General Hospital has the appearance of a first-class, private hospital; in fact, it is. As part of Japan’s JAICA program, Benguet General Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the nation with state-of-the-art architecture and facilities. But as we entered the surgical ward of the hospital, we knew it definitely wasn’t a private hospital for the rich. It was a hospital for the common man - the common man seeking relief from the pains of mortal flesh.

One of the hallways in the surgical ward of Benguet General Hospital

The first patient we met was a young, fourteen-year old girl named Shirley Ginanghan. Shirley was born and raised in Buguias, Benguet. Approaching her, we found nothing strange about her appearance. To us, she seemed just like one of our classmates or friends, because she was smiling at us, even though we were complete strangers. But Shirley is no ordinary girl. When she was nine years old, she developed osteomyelitis - a bone infection - at about the same time she fractured her leg bone. She now has a rod of metal, held in place by screws, keeping her bones straight. From then on, her life would never be the same.

Shirley Ginanghan

For the past five years, Shirley has traveled five hours from Buguias to La Trinidad every few months and has had her leg operated on five times. When we met her, she was alone. Where were her parents? Why weren’t they with their daughter? The answer came when we asked Shirley where her parents were. She has another operation scheduled this Tuesday (March 22, 2011), and her parents, both farmers, are working their backs off to raise the 10,000 pesos needed to pay for the medicines and implants for her operation. A procedure like this would normally cost 50,000-60,000 pesos in a private hospital, but for Shirley’s family, 10,000 pesos is no small deal.

Shirley telling us her story

Most fourteen-year olds are in high school, but Shirley is only just entering Grade Six. She stopped schooling for one year because one of her operations resulted in multiple complications, which required constant monitoring. Shirley stayed in the hospital for her birthday, which was on December 17, and for Christmas, December 25. She spent those two special occasions with her father, because her mother had to stay in Buguias to take care of her two younger siblings. But Shirley said she is happy. She told us that she finds joy in reading books, so her doctors have found a way to borrow and donate books to her. In the past two months she has been in the hospital, she has read over forty books, including all seven books in the Harry Potter series.

Shirley sharing her bright smile with us

What really struck us about Shirley was how bright she was! She told us that she absolutely LOVED science, and would someday like to go into a scientific profession. We told her about the research we did in our Research classes, and her eyes lit up with interest. Shirley’s only dream, you see, is to go back to school. She loves school because she loves “learning about anything and everything”. Yet, students like us, who are given all the opportunities we can take, complain about how hard education is, and how badly we want it to end. But that is Shirley’s only wish - to go to school once more, to learn, and to share her knowledge with other kids just like her.

We stayed with Shirley for a few hours, asking her our questions and answering her own questions. When time came to go, Shirley was laughing to us as though she was our classmate. She gave us all her cellphone number. Surprisingly, when Shirley sends text messages, she always signs them with the pseudonym “PROBLEMATIC GIRL”. But when we met Shirley, “problematic” would have been the last adjective we would use to describe her. Shirley smiles because she wants her family to know that she is doing well, and because she wants to be strong.

Shirley with some of her books

Yet Shirley is fighting her own battles. With every operation, she gets more and more nervous. With every day her parents are away, she misses them more and more. With every day she is gone from school, she longs to be back in the classroom to learn about science and other things. Perhaps that is why Shirley loves to read so much. In a world of problems, in a world where life has gotten her down, Shirley deserves the chance to be the hero, even when she only gets this chance when she reads adventure novels. Shirley reads these books to put her mind at ease, and to give her inspiration to keep going on.

Shirley deserves to tell her own story.

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