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  • Adrian Dofitas

Tacayan: A Story of Courage

You’re hiking up a mountain. The slope is practically parallel to your face, and your clothes are drenched in sweat. The air is hot and humid, and the sun is at its peak. You ask the locals how much farther it is to the community. They reply, “Isa na lang ka bukid, dali na lang na."

You’re hiking up a mountain. The slope is practically parallel to your face, and your clothes are drenched in sweat. The air is hot and humid, and the sun is at its peak. You ask the locals how much farther it is to the community. They reply, “Isa na lang ka bukid, dali na lang na. (Just one more mountain; you’re almost there).”

At that point, you have no idea how to react. Your lungs and your legs feel like giving up. Then, all of a sudden, you see a nipa hut. The locals and their children are waving at you with much excitement, wide smiles on their faces. All seem eager and ready to take part in the workshop you’ve planned for them.

Now you remember why you’re here in the first place. This is when you realize that retreat is not an option.

Why was I here in the first place?

It started last year. It was my third year of college, in the middle of the first semester. I was caught up in all the stress of schoolwork and extracurricular activities. I was a Public Health student, and on the college student council. I was involved with four other student organizations.

And yet I could no longer find meaning in my course. I was sick of memorizing facts that I would forget right after the exam. I felt lost—hopelessly, seriously lost. I tried to find meaning in other things, but they just didn’t feel right for me. I was near giving up.

It was then that I got an unexpected call from Leonard, a fraternity brother and a Public Health graduate of UP Visayas. He was taking up Medicine in UP Manila.

Leonard told me about Unilab Foundation’s Ideas Positive. I heard what he was saying, but I was only half-listening. Then he told me that he trusted no-one else to be a part of his team, and without hesitation I said yes. That was the first thing that got me out of my rut. I finally had something else to focus on besides academics and council work.

With Leonard and other students from UP Visayas, we formed Team SINAG. We met up prepare for the live screening. I learned about filariasis, about indigenous people, about community development. This became my distraction, my escape from mundane life. For once I was thinking about helping people other than myself, and I had a feeling that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

From the planning stage, to the Boot Camp, all the way to the Finals, I worked with a group of people who are more than just teammates; they’re family.

Leonard, Chelsea, Gian and I are members of the UP SCINTILLA JVRIS Fraternity, while Judy is with the UP STELLA JURIS Sorority.

We were separated by distance, but that never got in the way of our community projects and workshops. We were a team united by principle. It wasn’t easy balancing Ideas Positive with academics and extracurricular activities, but the difference was that I had gained a new perspective on life.

A lot of people give up when things don’t go according to their plan. We so often take failure as a sign of defeat, and we forget that those who get up after falling are stronger than those who have never fallen. Composure in the face of adversity is one thing, but choosing to start over after failing? That’s courage.

I didn’t just see this in myself, but in the people of Tacayan as well. I saw it in the mothers who would take their children to the barangay health center, located miles away from their home. I saw it in the children who never gave up on getting an education, even if it meant climbing two mountains every day. I saw it in the midwife who would go to these far flung communities every month, not out of mandate, but out of dedication. I saw it in the tribal chieftain, who continues to fight for equal rights for her tribe and for all indigenous people. And I saw it in the collective efforts of the community to rise up, even after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the community in 2013.

Resilience, integrity, family: these are the values that Tacayan stand for. And we must stand together as Filipinos if we want to build a healthier Philippines.

I joined Ideas Positive with the hopes of trying to find myself, but I ended up rediscovering a passion to help the underserved. I was so tired of trying to please everyone, by trying to live up to their expectations. I want to make something of my life, and this was the start.

I saw just how broken the public health system was in Tacayan, and I was determined to help fix it. Keep right when right, and set right when wrong, I reminded myself.

In the end, the awards and the recognition all paled in comparison to what happened behind the scenes during our six-month implementation period. We came to the community with nothing more than our backpacks and boxes of medicine, and we were welcomed by the people as if we were one of them. We had a goal: to stop the transmission of filariasis in Tacayan, and to educate the people on preventing this debilitating disease. But when it was time to leave, we realized that we had learned so much more from them, than they from us.

You don’t need to wait for a sign from the universe to tell you to go and change the world. You have the power to decide. Don’t wait. You have the power to change the world, and you can start now. There’s a hero inside you. Sometimes that hero can get lost, tired or depressed, but he’s there. It’s time to be that hero. Now.

Adrian Dofitas is a member of Team Sinag, which was awarded third place in Ideas Positive Run 6. He is studying BS Public Health at the University of the Philippines Visayas. Adrian likes music, food, and photography. Team SINAG is currently gathering support for further medical missions and coordination with the Department of Health. If you want to support Adrian and Team SINAG, you can email

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