A Helping Hand with Big Hands Australia
Big Hands Australia is a non-profit organization that aims to provide health training and rehabilitative health services to disabled Filipinos that normally go without.
Director of Big Hands, Carlos Bello, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist based in Melbourne Australia talks with Taste.Company about an organization striving to make their vision a reality. With an estimated ten million Filipinos living with a disability, the task is great.
Taste.Company: Thanks for speaking with us today, tell us why you started Big Hands?
Carlos Bello: Thanks for having me. Whilst volunteering in the Philippines, where I was born, I observed a vast number of poor and disabled people (for example people who were congenitally disabled with cerebral palsy or people who had acquired a disability through stroke or traumatic injury).
Stroke patient in Taytay Rizal, February 2016
There is either very low or non-existent access to quality healthcare. A poor person who has a disability and has no access to their rehabilitation needs, is often severely affected in their productivity, income generation, and within their family and community roles, and, as a result, can be swung into further poverty and burden their family.’
The injustice is that if they were living in Australia, access to quality healthcare would be much better. The health system in the Philippines is under-resourced and lacks the reach to benefit its population.
Taste.Company: And that’s how Big Hands started?
Carlos Bello: Yes, in this day and age, the world is a smaller place and if you want to make a difference, the sky is the limit. We’ve gone through a journey of deeply thinking about what we can do to help as an organization that’s based in Australia wanting to impact the people in a place such as a barangay in Payatas.
More importantly we have had to think about the root causes of such a broken health system. And by the grace of God, we have been given lots of teachers as we continue to navigate towards our vision of quality healthcare for each and every person.
Stroke patient in Taguig, Philippines consulting with a senior Speech Therapist based in Melbourne, Australia (September 2015)
We initially started with conducting medical missions which are a great way of supporting the community’s needs but we found were not sustainable, nor was it empowering to the community. When we left, the capacity of the community and the people to become healthier would not be improved.
Our work now focuses on telemedicine, barangay health worker training programs, and physical therapist courses. With our projects, as much as possible we conduct needs assessments and surveys on our target communities, so we can match what education we provide with the health needs of the community.
Training of health professionals in the Philippines so they are better equipped to help their patients (PLM, July 2016)
We have (and welcome) international and filipino locals of all backgrounds (health professional or not) who volunteer as the hands and the brains of our projects. Together, we’ve treated thousands of patients and trained hundreds of health worker.
Taste.Company: Tell us some stories about patients Big Hands has met and seen.
Carlos Bello: One of first patients was a man who had a severe motorbike accident at twenty five years old. Injuring his shoulder and arm, he was confined in the hospital, had his fractures fixed, and then once medically stable was discharged home without any further treatment. With a brachial plexus injury (unable to move his arm due to nerve injury) this man could not work or be productive, staying at home, and waited until his arm got better. When we met him, he was thirty five years old. We checked him and we realized that given the right exercises and therapy, he could potentially improve significantly.
We continued to follow him up through telemedicine over the course of a year and he was slowly getting back movement and strength. In one of the telemedicine sessions we had organized with him, he didn’t attend. As the Manila and Melbourne teams were packing up, the man rushed in and apologized for his lateness. He mentioned that he had been working in his family’s catering business and the reason he was late was because he was in a meeting planning the expansion of that business.
I was moved by the positive impact that our team had on the life of this man but also saddened because if the care we gave was given ten years ago he would not have wasted so much time.
Taste.Company: And we know Big Hands has a very famous patient…
Carlos Bello: Yes we do. It’s a funny story actually. We were in Tinglayan Kalinga to do a needs assessment on the community there. We had been working with the municipal doctor and the honorable mayor of Tinglayan to finalize a barangay health worker training program for the municipality.
Checking up on Apo Whang-Od (February 2017)
We had heard that Apo Whang Od lived near by (2-hour car ride and 1-hour hike) but had also heard that she had been very sick the week before. The global community has been very worried about her and Facebook had photos of her lying in bed and unresponsive.
The Mayor asked us to check on her and on the 9th of February 2017 we made the trek to her. When we arrived in Buscalan, we met with a very energetic Whang Od who was busy giving a village visitor a traditional eagle tattoo. Once she finished, Big Hands’ nurse, Zee, and I checked her vital signs. We talked with the village nurse and Whang Od’s close friends asking about her health status. As I’m primarily English speaking, having a conversation with Whang Od meant that English was translated to tagalog, tagalog to one dialect of Ilocano, and then that Ilocano to another dialect of Ilocano. And then back again.
While checking on her, the cheeky Whang Od, made comments about how unlady-like it is to wear very tiny shorts and also made sure the male visitors to the village were made to feel very welcome by being inappropriate with them.
Big Hands team members with Whang Od (February 2017)
Whand Od is in excellent health and was recovering well from her recent illness. We showed Whang Od how best to prevent recurrence of her health condition, gave her a set of simple exercises to maximize recovery, and we discussed the importance of taking the doctor’s prescribed medicines.
We were really honored we could serve such an icon and a funny soul. Now, I’m back in Melbourne and our team cannot wait to see her again. Maybe next time, I’ll have the courage to ask her to give me a tattoo.
Taste.Company: What’s next for Big Hands? How can we help?
Carlos Bello: We are continuing our training programs, which are really the most empowering and sustainable interventions we know. We continue to learn as we do our trainings and are also very open to innovative project ideas. We welcome others to contribute to our work as volunteers, leaders, partners, and donors.
Contribute, fundraise, or volunteer at Big Hands Australia
Medical Mission at Missionaries of the Poor, July 2016