IDF major reports from Philippines: ‘An extraordinary, powerful experience’

"We touched the hearts of thousands of people who will always have a place in their hearts for the State of Israel."

IDF field hospital Philippines 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office)
IDF field hospital Philippines 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office)
BOGO CITY, Philippines – On Monday, November 11, a text message on my cellphone invited me to join the IDF delegation to the Philippines.
Within 48 hours, I was on a plane with over 100 people, most of whom I had never met.
The Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands and has a population of close to 100 million. A 12-hour flight away from Tel Aviv, a whole different world reveals itself. The weather is hot, humidity tops 80 percent and it rains every day – typical tropical weather.
We land at a small airport in a desolate provincial capital.
The airport is bustling; a plane carrying humanitarian aid lands every few minutes.
There are piles of boxes and equipment everywhere. We are received in a loving and warm manner by the people, the police officers and the military personnel, who accompany us throughout our stay. The journey to the disaster-stricken area takes three hours. On the way, the damage the storm has wreaked is evident everywhere – fallen electrical poles, roofless houses and no electricity.
We reach our destination.
The local hospital is manned by only three doctors. It lacks equipment and medicine, and the staff are overwhelmed by an endless flow of patients.
Within a few hours, we have unloaded our equipment and set up tents in front of the hospital, and we are at work.
The locals are destitute, and the rumor of free medical treatment from the IDF delegation spreads rapidly across the region.
On the first day, we are met by queues of hundreds of men, women and children. All of the doctors from the delegation treat dozens of patients every day. We hear stories of homes destroyed by the storm, and flooded fields. Most of the people we see manage to remain optimistic, to keep smiling and to prepare to rebuild the ruins.
The optimism is especially noticeable among the children, who adapt quickly to any situation.
Work begins early in the morning, and the days are endless.
Despite having a diverse medical team and advanced equipment, we can’t help everyone. It’s tough to handle and weighs heavily on us.
The work is intense and carries on late into the night, when we sit and talk and digest the day’s events and analyze the cases we have seen. Being able to help so many people gives us great satisfaction – be it bandaging a simple wound, stitching a cut, treating pneumonia, conducting a life-saving operation or even just being able to offer words of encouragement.
We touched the hearts of thousands of people who will always have a place in their hearts for the State of Israel.
We miss our homes and families, but we understand that we are part of a remarkable mission.
Working under pressure creates a team spirit, and within a short time we feel like we have known each other forever.
Back in Israel, we lead comfortable lives, surrounded by family and friends. Being part of the aid delegation has been an extraordinary, powerful and Jewish experience that will always remain with me.
Maj. (res.) Prof. Alon Peres is an internal medicine specialist and head of the Safra Genetic Institute at Sheba Medical Center.
The IDF delegation returns to Israel Wednesday after nearly two weeks in the Philippines treating the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The 148-strong delegation treated 2,686 patients at its field hospital in Bogo City, 848 of whom were children.