I have a confession. I’m sitting in a Starbucks as I write this article. Directly below me is a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. Just down the hall is a state-of-the-art movie theater, complete with an IMAX cinema. You might be surprised to learn that I am only three blocks from Tebow CURE Hospital.
Over the past several years, the Philippines has experienced a substantial economic boost. Local industries and businesses are growing at a record rate, and many people have found lucrative work overseas. A large portion of these workers send their paychecks home to support their families. The middle class is growing, and small things that were once considered unattainable luxuries (like lattes and gourmet desserts) are becoming more and more the norm. When friends and family visit, they tease, “Wow …suffering for Jesus, eh? Must be tough!” They often follow up by saying, “So … why do organizations like CURE International need to be here? It doesn’t feel needy here!” The truth is the income disparity in the Philippines is enormous, and one doesn’t have to scratch the surface deeply to see the “other side.” In fact, walking just a few blocks in any direction from this mall reveals the need. The wealthiest 20% of the population hold a 50% share of the country’s income, and the lowest 20% hold just a 4.45% share.
Even though the economy is growing, medical resources are lacking. Outdated equipment, antiquated training, and a lack of professionals still make healthcare in the Philippines (especially here in the southern Philippines, far from the capital city of Manila) a struggle, no matter a person’s income. You can have all the money in the world and still have difficulty finding quality local health care. Some have the advantage of being able to travel to Manila, or nearby Singapore or Hong Kong, to receive top-notch medical care. But imagine you don’t have all the money in the world. Then, finding quality healthcare becomes nearly impossible.
Over two-thirds of humanity live in the countries that spend the least on healthcare—the poorest countries in the world. This massive group—71% of all people—receive only 29.4% of all surgeries performed worldwide. Practically, this means that if you live in one of these countries—which includes the Philippines—you are not likely to have access to basic surgical care for common conditions, like broken bones, much less something more complex (though still treatable), like bowed legs. As a result, minor correctable disabilities become permanent, debilitating conditions that often come with a lifetime of physical pain, shame, and isolation.
Based on data from UNICEF, we estimate that over 2 million children live with disabilities in the Philippines, and approximately 2,960 are born with clubfoot every year. Mindanao is particularly underserved, with very few hospitals that provide adequate orthopedic care. The decision to place the Tebow CURE Hospital in Mindanao was very strategic.
The physical needs of our patients are widespread. Some have inborn disabilities, and some are injury-related. Some have never seen a doctor, for any reason, and some have been to several hospitals and clinics without finding a solution. While the vast majority of our patients are in the lower income brackets, a few come from the upper economic class, in search of quality care they can’t find locally. While we wrestle with frustration over what is still lacking, we are honored to provide care for those who need it the most.
Joanna was born without a disability and spent most of her childhood running around with friends. Her grandmother, Malou, tells us that Joanna’s nickname is “Bullet” due to her energetic personality. Nearly two years ago, Joanna was playing with her cousins on a tree branch here in Davao City when she fell and broke her femur. The family went to a hospital, but the treatment there wasn’t working. Joanna still couldn’t walk, and the family had drained their resources in the process. Even though the family had access to some healthcare, Joanna’s healing was failing due to a lack of adequate training within the system. Malou heard about Tebow CURE Hospital from a friend; Joanna had surgery here and is now back in school.
Windel and his family live about five hours from Davao, in a rugged, mountainous area. Most of the villages are accessible only by foot or horseback; the roads are even too extreme for motorcycles. His village doesn’t have running water or electricity, and there is no access to healthcare. If that wasn’t challenging enough, Windel was born with clubfoot. He confesses, “Sometimes I wonder why God gave me these feet and put me here in this difficult place!” Despite the challenges, Windel is determined to finish school and take charge of his future. During the week, he stays in the next town over (where his school is located), so he doesn’t have to make the daily commute by foot. Windel recently had surgery to correct one foot and soon will have surgery to correct the other. Complete healing will significantly increase his chances of success.
While he stayed at CURE, Family Care Coordinator Mary Anne also taught Windel how to reference passages in the Bible. Until the family heard about CURE, there was no solution to Windel’s disability. In their area, the kind of care he needed just does not exist. Unfortunately, he is far from alone.
Because their disabilities were corrected, Windel and Joanna’s futures are wide open. While so many with disabilities, regardless of the cause, see little hope for the future, these two and hundreds of other CUREkids now have shot at living a successful life. Over two million children with disabilities is a staggering number, but we are proud to do what we can at Tebow CURE Hospital to help lower that number. We hope and pray and work toward the goal of growing and refining the medical system, allowing access to healing for every kid who needs it, regardless of income or social status.