The Team Banggi Story: Yolanda & Beyond
“The real hero is always a hero by mistake”
– Umberto Eco
Dr. Evangeline Cua, called Banggi by her friends, did not plan to be a hero. She only knew that she wanted to be a doctor. She knew it by the age of twelve. She was so sure about it she also knew that she wanted to be a surgeon. So in 1996, despite the silent protestations of her father about going to a medical school in Iloilo, she packed her things and travelled all the way from Catarman, Northern Samar, to take the entrance test at the West Visayas State University College of Medicine. Cebu medical schools were more expensive at the time so, despite the distance, Iloilo was a wiser choice.
Having been born to a midwife mother who served as the Municipal Nutrition Officer in San Roque, Northern Samar, Banggi was no stranger to a life of service or to a life dedicated to health and medical practice. She shared the interest with her siblings: of the five of them, another also became a doctor, and one became a nurse.
Banggi joined her first medical missions when she was doing her post graduate internship. But it was only by a stroke of luck — or unluck — that she would organize her own medical mission.
When Yolanda (international name Haiyan) struck the easternmost board of the Philippines in November 8, 2013, Banggi became worried about her brother who was working as a police officer in Tacloban. Her nurse sister was actually also there just to visit the brother; she arrived in Tacloban two days before Yolanda. Banggi made the resolve to go there to check on the two, as well as other members of her family. She thought that since she was going there anyway, it would also just be right for her to volunteer her services as a doctor. Medical personnel were badly needed in the hardest-hit areas in Samar & Leyte according to the news. She tried to contact some organizations to volunteer but got disappointed when they required her to first submit her credentials. That was when she decided to call for volunteers to join her in her trip which was to become the first Team Banggi medical mission.
Help comes but with a few glitches
The moment Banggi posted her call for volunteers and donations of surgical supplies for the medical mission to Tacloban on Facebook, a number responded by making donations, while others shared her post. The donations started to reflect on her account. Friends also referred her to contacts who signified their willingness to help. So the first team was organized and Team Banggi travelled to from Iloilo on November 11, 2013, 3 days after Yolanda struck.
The first medical mission came through not without glitches. Banggi shares that the team actually ran into a number of problems. First, they were not able to immediately fly from Cebu to Tacloban as commercial flights still did not resume then and that they were told that there were no more slots or seats left for those that who wanted to take the C130 plane. Second, three of the boxes full of medical and surgical supplies they brought to Cebu got lost. Banggi shares that they have no idea where the boxes went until now.
Still, despite the glitches, Team Banggi successfully made it to Tacloban and conducted the first medical mission serving around a thousand patients. It was the first local private initiative to dispatch a medical team to Tacloban. Ten days after Banggi posted her call for volunteers and donations, more and more doctor and nurses enlisted, and the donations for the cause breached the half million pesos mark. So a second medical mission was scheduled and pushed through. And then a third, then a fourth.
Thousands served, services worth millions
Team Banggi made a total of four trips to Tacloban between November and December, 2013, serving more than three thousand patients. When several medical teams were already heading their way to Tacloban, Banggi decided to adjust the focus of Team Banggi efforts to other areas which were similarly ravaged by Yolanda but had fewer volunteers and donations coming in.
Missions to Mambusao and Pilar, both in Capiz, were organized and executed in January 2014. A mission to Talalora, Samar, was done in March. Team Banggi got invited to Ifugao Province in April. And they also went to one of the more remote but beautiful islands in Palawan, Linapacan Island.
In a span of less than a year, Team Banggi served a total of 5,161 patients with only about thirty volunteers. With a working fund of around one million pesos — all from donations — Team Banggi was able to render medical and surgical services worth more than 3 million pesos.
In search of heroes
Team Banggi returned to Tacloban on November 8, 2014 and conducted a medical mission in in the anniversary of Yolanda. The team has conducted another mission in Tibiao, Antique, the following week.
Team Banggi still continuously receives invitations for the conduct of medical missions especially in remote barangays and even islands. For these medical missions to push through, Team Banggi still welcomes donations especially of amounts that will cover the logistical requirements of the missions. Donors may contact Dr. Banggi Cua for more details on how to donate.