Cultural connection enables life saving skill exchange for Aus Navy officer in the Philippines

Published on CPL Sebastian Beurich (author and photographer)

Location(s): Orani, Philippines

Topic(s): Training, Exercises

Royal Australian Navy officer Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac (centre) and Armed Forces of the Philippines officer Captain Henedino Vergara (centre-right) demonstrate cardio pulmonary resuscitation during a community health engagement activity at Pagasa Elementary School, Orani, Philippines on 8 April 2019. (photo: CPL Sebastian Beurich)
Royal Australian Navy officer Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac (centre) and Armed Forces of the Philippines officer Captain Henedino Vergara (centre-right) demonstrate cardio pulmonary resuscitation during a community health engagement activity at Pagasa Elementary School, Orani, Philippines on 8 April 2019.

Delivering training in disaster management, basic life support and health, hygiene and sanitation to rural communities in the Philippines was a key task for health professionals during Exercise BALIKATAN 2019.

Personnel from the Philippine, Australian and US militaries conducted sessions at multiple locations around Luzon Island for emergency services personnel and volunteers, as well as families looking to pick up some tips.

Providing clinical and technical support to her Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counterparts was a fulfilling experience for Flight Lieutenant Victoria Love-Rainbow.

“We got a lot of mothers and their kids coming to our presentations and they were always quite full with 30 to 40 people sitting in a small classroom,” Flight Lieutenant Love-Rainbow said.

“I love this sort of stuff – teaching basic hygiene and seeing people respond in a positive manner.

“I particularly like training children because they are the ones who will take the information back to their families and try to help the overall community, which I think makes a real difference.”

The team was ably assisted by ‘Mr Fuzz’, a puppet brought by Flight Lieutenant Love-Rainbow.

Royal Australian Navy officer Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac (centre) assists with a demonstration of basic first aid during a community health engagement activity at Pagasa Elementary School, Orani, Philippines on 8 April 2019.

Royal Australian Navy officer Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac (centre) assists with a demonstration of basic first aid during a community health engagement activity at Pagasa Elementary School, Orani, Philippines on 8 April 2019.

“We tried to incorporate a lot of props into our presentations to make our topics more exciting and engaging to children,” Flight Lieutenant Love-Rainbow said.

“We used the ‘Germinator’ – a UV light that you shine onto a gel on your hands to see dirty spots – to teach the kids about proper hand-washing technique.

“And we had Mr Fuzz, who we would ask questions of during the presentations. He was kind of like Harold the Giraffe, which I’m sure most Australians know from their own childhood.”

Rank structures disappeared during the training, according to Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Christian Aca-Ac, who said the Philippine and American personnel were easy to work with.

“We had a major doing compressions and a captain who was acting as a training dummy – it was more about delivering the proper way of training to hopefully save lives,” Lieutenant Aca-Ac said.

“Everyone in the community health engagement team were subject-matter experts in their own fields, so it was really good to bounce off each other while we were teaching.”

Lieutenant Aca-Ac also has a deeper connection to the Philippines.

“I grew up in Australia, but my parents are from the Philippines, so I feel like I have a special connection to this country,” he said.

“I think the Filipinos were very comfortable around me and, because I can speak Tagalog, I could act as a translator when required as well.”

When it comes to cleanliness, United States Navy Hospital Corpsman Grade Three (Fleet Marine Force) Simon Rodriguez said everything mattered, especially in rural areas that did not have access to the same resources as cities.

“Our audiences had a fair bit of prior knowledge about how to handle situations with unhygienic practices, but being able to go into detail and explain why they should do certain things was really helpful to them,” Hospital Corpsman Grade Three Rodriguez said.

AFP Reserve Command Captain Henedino Vergara said it was important to undertake disaster preparation and basic life support training to be prepared for anything that may happen.

“Part of the AFP Reserve Command mandate is to serve in our communities, in our case by conducting medical and dental missions for our fellows here in Bataan,” Captain Vergara said.

“I think the townsfolk got the importance of the lectures we shared with them, so in the future if we have disasters or calamities we’re ready to respond to them.”