How 7 American high school seniors reached out to help Filipino diabetics
It’s heartwarming to read the story of how, in November 1946, the plan and sacrifices of seven high school seniors from the small town of Oshkosh in Wisconsin would redound to benefit of millions of diabetics in the Philippines decades later.
It is detailed in “Tatay of Philippine Diabetology,” a book written by Elwyn “Jack” Nelson.
Jack, a construction engineer assigned to the Philippines during World War II, published the book in 2008 to honor the accomplishments of Dr. Ricardo Fernando, who is Tatay (father) to the hundreds—probably close to a thousand—diabetes specialists, called diabetologists, now practicing all over the country.
Tatay Ric practically mentored each of them, literally cloning himself hundreds of times to ensure that millions of Filipino diabetic patients, even those in remote areas in the country, would receive expert care. They do this together with the endocrinologists, who are specialists in diabetes and other hormone-related diseases.
The seven American high-school seniors, some of whom are still alive, were members of the Methodist Church in Oshkosh and were the original members of the Methodist Youth Fellowship of their church.
On that fateful Sunday night in 1946, at their organizational meeting, they decided to do a project that would fill in a big need in a poor country. Jack and his wife Ginna were assigned as counselors or advisers of the group.
And, most likely, because Filipinos had a special place in Jack’s heart—having been assigned here in World War II—
doing something for the Philippines was top of mind. He knew that the country was still recovering from the ravages of war and there was a big health gap to be filled.
The group believed the project should raise funds to send someone here to medical school and also fund his/her training in the United States after graduation.
Tatay Ric, a bright young man from Tondo, Manila, whose father was also a Methodist pastor, became the beneficiary of that scholarship.
The seven American youth, which increased to 12, raised funds by selling newspapers and pancakes, mowing loans and running all sorts of errands. They did these religiously every weekend, and more so during summer vacation. Every penny counted.
Upon meeting, they gathered around a one-foot cross, made of solid brass, placed on a small table. And with hands held together, they would fervently pray for the success of their project.
They set a goal to raise $600 a year, already a prodigious amount at the time. Their first fund-raising activity—a pancake supper on a cold winter evening—raised $57.41.
Every Easter Sunday for the next several years, the youth group would wake up early in the morning to cook breakfast and sell them at $0.50 a plate. Although they made a profit of only $5.85 on their first try, this did not deter them.
The church members gave the brass cross to Dr. Richard Elwyn Fernando, eldest son of Tatay Ric, when he visited Oshkosh in June 2007.
Elwyn, called Kuya (elder brother) by the diabetologists his father had trained, came to Oshkosh to thank the surviving members of the youth group, and others who helped in that auspicious project to send Tatay Ric to medical school at the University of the Philippines, and train later at Harvard and Joslin Medical Center.
The church members handed the cross to him to take back to the Philippines. The cross now rests atop a platform at the altar of the private chapel in Tatay Ric’s home.
That cross will always be a poignant reminder of the simple dream of kids in a small town in America to help their brethren, living thousands of miles away. Tatay Ric was God’s answer to their prayers that their sincere efforts would be blessed a million times—as truly it is now, with millions of Filipino diabetics now benefiting from that altruistic act.
The dream of seven teenagers from Oshkosh is an example of the biblical parable of how a mustard seed—the smallest of all seeds—can grow to become a robust tree, “so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The millions of Filipino diabetics who benefited from Tatay Ric’s lifelong advocacy to curb diabetes and its complications owe a debt of gratitude to seven American kids.
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