Posted by Jim Fitzgerald
With some serious reservations about our own safety and wellbeing for the next two weeks, my wife and I were aboard a Boeing 747, traveling to the Philippines.  The trip followed my year as district governor in 1992-93, in which Rotary clubs in district 5830 teamed up with Rotarians in the Philippines to obtain and successfully complete a Matching Grant there.  For our part, this was the culmination of a dream come true.
We were traveling with Rotarian Dr. Alberto de la Cruz, a surgeon from Winnsboro Texas, to Manila, on the island of Luzon, in the Philippines. to join other Rotarians where he would spend a week doing surgeries in the remote village of Orani, Bataan. 
It was a surgical mission that he and other medical specialists had organized, funded, and planned for over a year in conjunction with the support of Rotarians from Mandaluyong East, Luzon, and from Winnsboro, Texas.  It was not his first nor would it be his last.  He had to bring the necessary equipment and medicines needed for the surgeries and treatment, on the flight.
Waiting for him were children with cleft palates and deformed legs, women with goiters, and men with facial deformities, all vetted for surgery by medical specialists weeks before. 
Sleep was impossible for me, because so much depended on us reaching our destination safely; not just for our ourselves, but for others on this same flight who were going to the same place, for the same reason.  Countless people depended on our safe arrival and that of our priceless cargo of medicines and surgical equipment that we brought with us as our “luggage”. 
As it turned out my worries were groundless, but other dangers, unknown to us at the time, were, at that very moment disrupting our journey.  A typhoon named “Lola” was making its way westward; bearing down on, Luzon, the very island to which we were headed, and the very city where we were due to land, Manila. 
The flight plan had to be be altered to avoid “Lola”, so it took us far north of the original course; first up the western coast of Canada, then west along the southern coast of Alaska, and out over the Bearing Sea, and finally along the eastern coast of Russia and China.
It was December and the landscape below was covered in snow.  As I looked down from the safe, warm confines of the Boeing 747, I noticed a panorama unfolding 39,000 feet below.  A beautiful, white, yet desolate landscape scrolled beneath us; up the western shore of Canada, along the southern shores of Alaska and the Aleutians, out over the Bearing Sea, and down the east coast of Russia and China. 
I marveled at the unbelievable beauty of the frozen snow-covered landscape sculpted by shadows from a rich, golden, "twilight" that, lasted for hours, as if time had slowed down or stopped.
The sight below was breath-taking and dreadful at the same time.  I could not help wondering how anyone, or anything, could survive down there in those extreme artic conditions.
I thought of how helpless we would be, and how little hope we would have of survival if our plane was forced to land, or even worse, to crash in this desolate, frozen arctic wasteland with no one to come to our aid.
All my fears were unfounded. We arrived at the airport in Manila well ahead of Typhoon Lola.  There, waiting to meet us at 1:00 AM, Sunday morning, were almost a dozen smiling Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Mandaluyong East eagerly awaiting our arrival and eager to assist us with the “luggage”. 
When typhoon “Lola” passed through Manila the next day, the medical mission was almost canceled. The decision, wisely, was made to delay the mission one day to let the typhoon pass. 
Local Rotarians from several local clubs hosted 25 or more doctors and Rotarians while we waited.   Those Rotarians and the doctors were busy people, and this was a great sacrifice for them.  Many of the doctors and assistants had traveled half way around the world and had committed that week for this mission.
But their main concern was not about their practice or business; or for that matter, the devastation being caused by “Lola”, but, rather, it was that it might not be possible to treat all the people in Orani who were waiting for them and their life-altering, and in some cases, life-giving surgeries.
I had gone there to dedicaste ten water wells and ten public restrooms that were funded through a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant, and contributions from District 5830, The wells were dug, and the public restrooms were constructed with voluntary labor provided by the Rotarians of the new Rotary Club of Orani Bataan.
From there we were taken directly to the clinic where I observed an operation on a nineteen-year-old mother. I watched as she walked into the operating room, kissed her husband, lay down on the operating table, and closed her eyes.  I watched as the attending physicians gently tied her arms and legs to the operating table with strips taken from the leaf of a nearby tropical tree. I watched as Dr. de la Cruz carefully but quickly began the operation to remove two tumors which were encircling her windpipe.  Standing beside me, was the president of the Mandaluyong East Rotary club.
We were still there over an hour later when the surgery was finished.  We were exhausted, but for Dr. de la Cruz and the others, it was on to the next patient. Their day ended well after midnight, and began the next morning at sunrise.
Before the mission ended four days later, over three hundred people had been treated for various conditions including surgeries for goiters, hernias, cataracts, cysts, and cleft pallet; treatment of skin diseases, respiratory diseases, and malnutrition. A total of over 30 doctors and Rotarians were involved in the surgical mission. 
My thoughts turned to the cold arctic wasteland I had crossed on my way there, and I realized then, how little hope those people in Orani had if we had not arrived with our life-giving medical skills and medical supplies.
How, even before our plane lifted off for that trip, and long before we arrived, Rotary was there, organizing and planning that medical and surgical mission, and lifting the hopes of those people.
Even before Rotarians in Texas became aware of the need for clean water and sanitary restrooms in this tiny little “wasteland” named Orani; even before our Marshall Rotarians had gotten involved; Rotarians in Manilla had already seen the need and were making plans to help those people survive in their own wasteland, every bit as hostile to them as the arctic tundra would have been to those of us in the plane, if we had we been forced to land.  To be sure, we could never have survived, without the help of others.  And, neither could these desperate people,  
Past R.I. President M.A.T. Caparas, 1986-1987 of the Philippines was right when he said, "Rotary Brings Hope", and Past R.I. President Cliff Dochterman 1992-1993 was right when he said, "Real Happiness is Helping Others", and Award-Winning Journalist and Past Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 1957, Bill Moyers was right when he said, "You Can Matter Too".
It was like seeing a majestic tapestry hanging in a great hall, which Rotarians had woven over the years so patiently and beautifully, and suddenly realizing that this tiny, yet awesome, thread was hope that we had just added so perfectly and seamlessly into that beautiful piece, and then I knew that Hope Matters Too!