Written by Mark Ray Espinoza* and Cyril Planilla**
The word volunteerism can be defined in a lot of ways and, sure enough, each and every one of us has our very own picture of what volunteerism is. Commonly, we interpret it as selfless service and a giving time and effort for a worthy cause. Although not everyone is in active practice of being a volunteer, the spirit of volunteerism has been adamantly aflame in our society now more than ever. As we side-step the snares of apathy and climb the steps that least to the realization of our endeavors, we find ourselves fueled by the passion for service. This principle is the lifeblood, down to the very core, of the VYLH.
The Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health - Philippines (VYLH-Philippines) , formally organized on July 2009, was the brainchild of Dr. Carmencita D. Padilla, borne out of her faith in the youth and in their infinite capabilities. The former director of the Institute of Human Genetics (IHG) of the National Institutes of Health - University of the Philippines Manila, along with her colleagues envisioned that the youth will play a major role in nation building, and The UP Los Baños Genetics Society, this vision was made into reality by tapping into different youth organizations - thus VYLH started.
The VYLH is a network of youth leaders from different youth organizations from various universities and community organizations in the Philippines. The common goal of these leaders is to advocate and promote health concerns currently pervading society. It was formally organized on July 2009 during the First National Youth Camp in the Tagaytay Dacha Hotel, youth program is part of an international effort to establish the Global Network for Maternal and Infant Health (GNMIH).
Among the different advocacies under the VYLH at present, the awareness campaign for Newborn Screening and Folic Acid Supplementation is the flagship program of the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health - Philippines. The campaign for newborn screening aims to increase the number of babies that are being screened here in the Philippines. It also aims to increase awareness regarding the importance of Newborn Screening in order for early screening, detection, and treatment for common inborn errors of metabolism.
Folic acid supplementation, on the other hand, aims to promote the advantages of taking folic acid during the childbearing and reproductive years to reduce the incidence defects among babies.
A more recent endeavor centers on lobbying public support for the urgent passage of the Rare Disease Act, an act addressing the early diagnosis and treatment for patients with rare, orphan disorders. Signature campaigns are being rallied throughout the Philippines through VYLH in partnership with the Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders, Inc (PSOD).
Since its inception, the number of VYLH volunteers all around the Philippines increased from 73 in 2009 to 189 at present - 137 of whom are University-based and 52 from the community. Recently, the network has sustained VYLH for the past two years has been strengthened with the First Volunteer Yoiuth Leaders for Health National Congress in Fontana Leisure Park, Angeles City, Pampanga last May 25-27, 2011. The congress paved the way for VYLH to strengthen its foundations to help its volunteers become better individuals through different lectures and workshops on current health issues as well as leadership development. Besides igniting the drive and passion for service among its members, volunteers also get to meet their co-volunteers from other parts of the country. As what Ryan Pascual, the former VYLH President said, "Taking this opportunity [to join and be part of VYLH] further ignited my desire, and from this I met a wide range of people from co-volunteers to the most respected in the health sciences - a community with unparalleled passion and dedication to the advocacy. This was the time when I realized the feeling was contagious and I'm already infected."
VYLH has achieved a great feat over the last two years, and it will undoubtedly achieve even greater achievement this year. The list of more than 200 advocacy activities will go on until we achieve our goal: that every newborn baby here in the Philippines is screened, that the incidence of neural tube defects and other congenital malformations are diminished, and that every child with an orphan disorder will be given the health care that he/she deserves.
Regardless of how differently we define and interpret the word volunteerism, all of us at some parts in our lives, will have lived our definition of volunteerism. That is, we all have been volunteers. For us in VYLH-Philippines, we choose to not let ourselves be held captive by the shackles of stagnation and apathy. Volunteers all over the Philippines are now taking the challenge to be advocates. With commitment, compassion, and the desire to make a difference, the Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health are not just defining what volunteerism is in this new age. We are living it.
* Mark Ray Espinoza, RN finished his Nursing degree at Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan. Mark became affiliated to the network during the Mindanao Island-wide Camp last July 2010. He is currently the Regional Coordinator (REG 10) of VYLH Philippines.
** Cyril Planilla is currently a senior medical student at Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan. Cyril became affiliated to the network during the Mindanao Island-wide Camp last July 2010.