It all started with a private message.  A fellow breastfeeding mom was concerned because she had been seeing calls for formula milk donation at Villamor Airbase.  She had been helping out in Villamor Airbase because she found herself not being able to leave.  Camille Favorito shared that her officemate experienced first hand how it was in Villamor during the early days, when they were waiting for their own relatives from Tacloban.  There was no receiving process – no food, no medical teams.  They volunteered to help and have not left.


Camille pm-ed me and shared about moms and babies who were coming to Villamor.  I messaged fellow breastfeeding advocate, Dr. Lei Alfonso.  She spoke with the PAF Ladies’ Mrs. Ona over the phone and the wheels started turning.  We quickly formed a coalition of various breastfeeding groups of doctors and mothers to set-up a child-friendly space in VAB – Nanay Bayanihan Center.   We also have a Facebook page – Bayanihan Para sa Mag-Ina – which also focuses on The Cold Chain Project.  But I will talk about that in a separate post.

The Nanay Bayanihan Center has been operating for more almost 2 weeks and we have so many stories to tell.  On my first day of duty – which was supposed to be just an organizational meeting – I had to deal with zealous well-meaning but misinformed volunteers.  Because this was an emergency situation, this is the most common misconception that I have had to face:

Read more here
The very first mom-baby dyads I met there were breastfeeding.  Immediately, they were met by volunteers and one volunteer, hurriedly ran to the back to get a bottle of milk.  I stopped her and told her – why don’t we ask the mother first – if she needs to bottle — and it turns out the mother was indeed exclusively breastfeeding.  Volunteer to me:  “Buti na lang tinanong natin para hindi sayang yung gatas”? (Good thing we asked, so the milk won’t go to waste) —> Say what?!  And that is a formula feeding culture for you!

During our first few days at VAB, we stayed inside a 9×9 tent loaned by Buding Aquino-Dee.  I am extremely thankful for our mother volunteers and donors who transformed the tent into a homey space where the mothers and babies could stay and received counseling on proper nutrition for their infants and young children during emergencies.

our humble beginnings
We met a 3-day old baby – who was nursed by volunteers Yssai and Lei.  This baby’s father had advanced stage lung cancer and her mother was busy looking for a hospital to admit the father.  She left her baby in the tent for the entire day.  We had generous volunteer moms who offered to wet nurse the baby and she never went hungry.  We were also lucky to have UP-PGH doctors at NB who facilitated the admission of the father in UP-PGH’s charity ward. 
Aside from wet nursing, Dr. Mianne Silvestre also taught several mothers how to hand express their milk. An officemate, Madz Tolentino also wet nursed babies and successfully helped a mother who was formula-feeding her 5-month old baby – latch her baby back.  Madz massaged the mom who was ecstatic to find that she still had breastmilk.  The baby was able to latch with the use of drip-drop method and donor’s milk.  
For my own personal experience, I was able to wet nurse a 3-week old baby – baby Andrea whose mother was having palpitations and difficulty breathing.  Baby Andrea’s family was from Hernani, Samar.  Because she was born via c/s on November 3, 2013, her family had to stay at a hospital in Borongan, Samar which was a blessing because their house was wiped out!  My officemates rallied to provide milk for Andrea and we were happy to eventually find out that her mother was able to breastfeed her again.  
Fellow LATCHer and volunteer, Eliza Ypon of The Painter’s Wife has been there mostly during the graveyard shift and also has a lot of stories to tell.  For now, she is helping collect breastmilk for floating baby Wilbert.  Find out how you can help by reading her post
Yes, there were hiccups in the operations but let us not forget that we are here for the evacuees.  We are not here for our convenience or to be stars or to be famous.  We come for a purpose – in our case to protect the most vulnerable – mothers, infants and young children – who are susceptible to false information and malnutrition.  Operations are still ongoing and we still need volunteers.  If you are interested, please see more details in the poster below.  You can also read our manifesto and decide if you can abide by our beliefs.  If no, then Nanay Bayanihan may not be the proper volunteer path for you. 
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