So we’re now two weeks into the new year. It hasn’t been that long but so much has happened and it’s making me giddy.

The first few days were spent resting at home after the holidays as well as savoring the last few moments I had with my family before I had to go back to Manila for another semester. I went back a bit earlier than usual, though, because my friends and I were going on a trip.

See, last year, my high school friends and I booked a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yes – the land of all those Angkor temples, some of which may be familiar because of films like Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. It was a trip I was genuinely excited about because it was my first out-of-country trip with a large group of high school friends (some of us did go to Seoul, South Korea two years ago but there were just four of us then – this time, we were a larger group of seven). Aside from that, though, I was very interested in the sights we were about to visit. Siem Reap and the Angkor temples reek of so much history and I was just so thrilled! The promise of seeing remnants of a once-great civilization and hearing many stories behind them awakened the history geek in me that had become, unfortunately, largely ignored as I was swimming through my first semester in medical school.

So, anyway, we spent three lovely days exploring Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’ll probably talk more about those three days in a later post but suffice it is to say that it was an enriching trip. I was invigorated by the stories I’ve heard about the people, the places and just about everything in Siem Reap. Though, to me, it’s been quite disconcerting to see that so many people are  still struggling in their country. Memories of the war are still evident – especially from the occasional landmine victims we’ve crossed paths with, and you can just see how people are fighting to thrive in a competitive market targeted to tourists. I have so many thoughts to share regarding this but I’ll probably gather them first and share them later on.

Right after getting back from Siem Reap, I went on to attend the Newton Fund Researchers’ Link Workshop which was organized by my university. It was a four-day workshop where researchers from both the Philippines and the UK gathered to pore over the most recent papers tackling the state of Universal Health Care in the country. It was my first foray into the field of public health. See, though, I’ve been part of an organization that caters to chronically-ill pediatric patients, I haven’t been able to do much or contribute even to the macro side of the issue of health in this country. I realized that I’m very interested in public health. I wanted to learn more about it and that’s why  I joined this workshop as a volunteer rapporteur – basically we were going to be observers and transcribers during the workshop sessions.

The first day was admittedly difficult. I was running on two hours of sleep because our flight got in very early in the morning. I was also having a hard time trying to catch up with the lingo of health systems and what-not because I, admittedly, hadn’t been able to do the recommended readings prior to the conference (my bad!), but, thankfully, things got better. It was so inspiring to hear respected lecturers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and many other UK universities. It was also equally inspiring to see researchers and lecturers from my own university, Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, as well as other universities and institutions here.  It was just great to hear and see them talk so passionately about their fields

Ultimately, though, what the workshop helped me realize is that the future of the health system in the Philippines is full of hope. Yes, there may be so many problems right now but I’ve seen and heard so many people who are willing to help change what we currently have. There are so many who are  willing to risk and hope for a better state of our health system – and that makes me want to dream with them. It’s going to be a long, long journey for me and for this whole country but I do genuinely believe it will be a worthwhile one. As to how I can concretely contribute to this, that’s for me to find out in the coming months.

So, that’s it. That’s how the first two weeks of the year have been for me.

In two days, I’m going back to med school for my second semester. I know it’s going to be a tough one but I do hope I’ll be able to swim through it.

This year, my only resolution is that I wouldn’t be too tough on myself and that includes, not pressuring myself to figure things out asap because really, has anyone even succeeded in speeding up that process? I sometimes wish I can but I’ve come to terms that I can’t and so…. Wish me luck?

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