By Arantxa Sison (WSF Support Staff Volunteer)
Some East Coast members of the World Surgical Foundation raced to leave Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ahead of an impending snow storm on Wednesday, 12 February 2014. With East Coast flights canceled, a bus was chartered to drive volunteers through the night from Harrisburg to Detroit International Airport. The bus left Harrisburg at 11 PM with snow already accumulating on the ground and drove eight hours through falling snow and icy conditions. WSF arrived safely at the Detroit airport in plenty of time to check-in and board the 3 PM flight to Nagoya, Japan. After having traveled by bus for eight hours and 500 miles (800 km), the next stages of WSF’s travels: a 13.5 hour flight to Japan, a connection to Manila, and the final destination of General Santos City in the Philippine archipelagos southernmost tip, seemed “easy”.
Once volunteers arrived in Manila at midnight, travel became seamless with the coordination by WSF’s Filipino hosts. The East Coast contingent of WSF made the transfer from international to domestic terminals with all the luggage, medical supplies, and medical equipment via an awaiting shuttle. The flight to General Santos City, Mindanao departed as scheduled at 6 AM. Needless to say, upon arrival in GenSan less than two hours later, most volunteers were exhausted. But they were ecstatic travels were over and excited their humanitarian work would soon commence.
At General Santos International Airport most volunteers thought the World Surgical Foundation had coincidentally happened upon a celebration. Festive music was playing just outside baggage claim. To our surprise, the local hosts in the City of General Santos and Sarangani Province had organized a marching band composed of talented local youths to greet and welcome the foundation volunteers to their magnificent city and province. There was a large banner which read “Welcome World Surgical Foundation” and once WSF team members realized they were being so graciously welcomed in this manner, tiredness from the travels immediately disappeared. The music and performance was truly spectacular and simply a preview of exactly how gracious, accommodating and hospitable our hosts would prove to be during the entirety of the surgical camp.
The rest of the arrival day was spent getting acclimated to the new time zone and resting at the Roadhaus Hotel. Accommodations at the Roadhaus were courtesy of Congressman Manny Pacquiao and Vice Governor Jinkee Pacquiao. Later that evening, World Surgical Foundation volunteers were treated to a welcoming dinner. Local dignitaries were in attendance such as Governor Steve Solon, Dr. Arvin Alejandro, Sarangani Provincial Health Office, General Santos City Mayor, Ronnel Rivera, and Director of General Santos City Hospital, Dr. Benjamin Pagarigan along with other officials from General Santos City, Sarangani Province, and General Santos City Hospital. Dr. Domingo Alvear, founder of the World Surgical Foundation, and Dr. Lester Suntay from Makati Medical Center also made brief introductory speeches and thanked our most generous hosts.