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Katya and I premiered our short documentary, “A Hospital in the Pines” at the Alpen Club in Vancouver, BC this past Saturday. The event was a fundraiser for the Canadian nonprofit organization GO-MED, to help support their 2015 medical mission to the Philippines. A Bavarian-themed restaurant was an interesting choice of venue for showing a documentary about the Philippines. The place looked like something you would find in Leavenworth. A bar was conveniently located right outside of the large dining room and filled with elderly German gentlemen who sounded like they were all having a fine time. The very first thing I did after we showed up and tested the projector and sound system was to order myself a beer.
We ran a slide show as the servers were still setting up the tables. The slide show was a last minute idea. I thought it would be good to show some of the images of the Philippines we took on our trip as people showed up. Katya dug into her hard drive and came up with about 300 images and I added a few of my own. I was pleasantly surprised because I hadn’t seen most of her images before. She probably snapped a couple thousand during the trip and never had time to go through them more than once. So we spent about 45 minutes just sipping beer and watching the slide show, editing images on the fly before the first guests showed up. We let the show run through dinner until GO-MED president Lisa Bruhm got up to introduce the film.
I have become a bit of an advocate for medical missions ever since I went to the Philippines two years ago with the Canadian non-profit group, GO-MED. At first I was primarily attracted to the challenges of practicing medicine in a developing country, but later I realized that you really gain a lot from volunteering, in terms of gratitude from the staff and patients, and friendships and connections you make along the way.
A few of the nurses, surgical technicians, and doctors I got to know make time to travel on missions every year. They do it for various reasons, including a love of travel and a genuine desire to help other people. I think volunteers are also attracted to the autonomy of working within a small organization, unencumbered by the onerous rules and regulations imposed by the large hospital systems in North America, the opportunity to wrestle with unfamiliar, advanced pathologies you would rarely see here, and the "meaningfulness" of the work.
I attribute some of the growing popularity of the medical mission experience to an eroding sense of purpose that comes from working in a health care system which increasingly fails to value and respect its professionals, is obscenely expensive, wasteful, environmentally destructive, burdened with bureaucracy, geared toward raking in profits for pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers, and biased toward high-tech, expensive interventions for chronic disease, rather than the prevention of disease by low-tech, comprehensive changes in lifestyle and diet. When doctors and nurses find it more fulfilling to fly halfway around the world to work for free in a developing country rather than in their regular jobs in the US and Canada, it should be a clue that we have a real problem.
GO-MED is unique in that it not only provides free surgical care, but also is focused on teaching local nurses and doctors . Shirley Pinlac, the nurse who founded GO-MED, trained at Baguio General Hospital, which is why this hospital has been host to the mission for the past six years. As GO-MED moves forward with plans to serve at other locations in the Philippines, I think it is appropriate that the times spent at Baguio General Hospital are commemorated in this film. Although the documentary deals entirely with the 2014 mission, the experience is typical of previous years.
Back to the premiere: we were thrilled that a lot more people showed up than were expected. At least twenty people came without prior reservations so the restaurant staff were running around to find more chairs and an extra table to seat people. It was great to reconnect with the team members with whom we worked on the past two missions, and to meet in person others who we only knew online. We are hoping that publicity from people sharing this movie online through social media will not only encourage people to donate to GO-MED but also inspire nurses and doctors to volunteer for future missions. It's easier to donate when you know what your money is being used for, and to volunteer when you can see what you are getting into.
I always imagine that people watch my videos alone on their laptops or tablets, so I don’t think I was prepared to watch this movie with a large audience. Nothing can compare to the experience of showing your movie to a room full of strangers! It is the true test of whether a movie works or not. I was totally blown away by the reaction. People laughed and cried — seriously! I now believe that the secret to a good premiere is to feed your audience dinner and make sure they have all had a few drinks and are surrounded by good friends (On the other hand, Katya was afraid that people were going to fall asleep after having eaten dinner once the lights went off). It might help to serve strong coffee with dessert.
We set up a page on Facebook for the movie and I invite you to "like" it and follow along as we post news related to the movie.
If you enjoy this film please consider contributing toward GO-MED's future missions. Since our volunteers personally pay for their own airfare and accommodations, donations directly fund patient care. Donations are processed through CanadaHelps, a registered charity that processes secure, online donations on behalf of Canada's 80,000+ registered charitable organizations. Within minutes of making the donation, you will receive an official electronic tax receipt emailed to you.