At 34, Sister Eva Fidela Maamo conducted a surgical operation on the wife of a T'boli datu in Lake Sebu, a landlocked and mountainous town in South Cotabato, a southern Philippine province.
The patient had internal bleeding following the rupture of her ovarian cyst, but the nearest hospital in Dadiangas was six hours away by foot and would require crossing rivers seven times.
The woman might die that night in transit to Dadiangas (now General Santos City) if she were carried in a hammock. Dadiangas was two towns away from Lake Sebu. So, the woman was brought instead to the house of a priest, where Maamo conducted the operation on a bamboo table.
The octogenarian nun, also a recipient of the Mother Teresa Award, recounted the operation that saved her life: "With only four surgical clamps, a knife, and 15 cc of local anesthesia, the operation saved her life."
"Since there's no dextrose in the mountains, I used fresh coconut juice, which is rich in potassium," she told RVA News.
Isolated from the nearest hospital by rugged terrain and rivers, the nun trained 17 barefoot doctors from the tribes of T'boli, Ubo, Manobo, Bilaan, Kalagan, and Muslims.
Forty major rivers flow through Lake Sebu, a tourist destination for its lake that measures 345 hectares with 11 islets and islands inside its rim.
"The incidence of diseases in the tribes climbed down by one-third after a year," she said. "The diseases include gastroenteritis, bronchitis, malaria, pneumonia, and intestinal parasitism."
Maamo wished to stay longer with the tribes. But in 1981, her superior called her back to Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
In 2005, she started inviting indigenous people from across the country to come to Manila and undergo barefoot doctor training.
She had them trained, among others, in how to do physical examinations, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, reflexology, massage, and minor surgery.
"The training is a holistic one," the nun said. "They also undergo training on leadership and team building; community organizing, problem identification, and planning; livelihood; spiritual values and formation; and cultural preservation."
Maamo had so far trained 12 batches of tribal barefoot doctors.
Currently, she has 274 active tribal doctors in 110 indigenous communities across the country. The tribal barefoot doctors have their own satellite clinics in Subic, Zambales; Mindoro; Lake Sebu; and Bato, Leyte.
"Our barefoot doctors are not medical doctors," the nun clarified. "But they had been introduced to the different branches of medicine and could treat common diseases."
Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission
In 1984, three years after her superior called her back to Manila from Lake Sebu, Maamo formed a foundation seeking to provide medical services in depressed areas in Metro Manila and indigenous communities in the provinces: the Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, Inc.
Originally established for a medical mission, the foundation later broadened its mission to include programs for livelihood, education, street children's feeding, ministry for the aged, and spiritual and values formation.
The program recipients had been trained, among others, in making peanut butter, organic farming, sewing, soap-making, and food preservation.
In 1991, following the Mount Pinatubo eruption, Maamo and her foundation helped the Aetas (indigenous people) at the foot of the mountain rebuild their homes.
The eruption, the second-largest in the 20th century, claimed the lives of more than 800 individuals and displaced about 10,000 people. The Aetas were the hardest hit, losing their homes to pyroclastic and lahar flow.
The foundation offered them assistance to grow crops and raise swine and poultry.
Years later, Maamo and charitable groups and individuals built a clinic, a daycare center, an elementary school, and a high school for the Aetas.
They also constructed for them a training center, a grotto of Mary, and a chapel.
The Aetas of Mount Pinatubo worship a supreme being they refer to as Apo Na. They are also animists who believe good and bad spirits inhabit the mountains, rivers, valleys, and other places. But with the years of Maamo's apostolate in the community, tribesmen started to convert to the Catholic faith.
"I don't convert," the nun said. "I brought a catechist. After some time, they began to embrace the faith. Some had even abandoned the polygamous culture of the tribe and got married in the Catholic church."
In 1992, keen on broadening the health program of the foundation and providing the less fortunate with a hospital for the poor, Maamo built the Our Lady of Peace Hospital with local and foreign donations. The four-story hospital is equipped with 100 beds.
The late Jesuit Father James Reuter had chaired the foundation's board. He died of lung and heart failure in the same hospital.
The foundation is currently chaired by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization.
Maamo had seen a nun for the very first time when she was a Grade 2 pupil. Her family shared their home with Daughters of St. Paul Sisters who made the rounds in Leyte carrying religious reading materials at the time.
Her father served as mayor and vice governor of Leyte, a province in the central Philippines.
"I peeked into what they were doing when they were in our house," Maamo recounted. "That experience made me dream of becoming a nun someday. But I was destined to join the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres."
Maamo graduated in medicine from the Cebu Velez College of Medicine. She practiced in a family clinic in Leyte for three years.
Her family was opposed to her intention of becoming a nun, especially her father, whom she described as a gentle martinet. So, they sent her abroad to study general surgery at the University of California Hospital, USA.
But her family failed in their schemes to make her forget her religious life. She returned to the Philippines and joined the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres.
Maamo is also a recipient of the Most Outstanding Physician of the Philippines Award (1994), the International Peace Prize (2003), and the Outstanding Woman of the 21st Century (2002).
She received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 and the Mother Teresa Award in 1992.
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