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First Destination: Mercy in Action

Trike ride to Mercy in Action

A driver’s son looks back at us during our trike ride to Mercy in Action’s Olongapo birthing home. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

To get to the natural birth clinic in Olongapo, we had to take two jeepneys and a trike.

Jeepneys are akin to tiny busses with no doors and are painted in bright colors. A lemon yellow jeepney carried us to the local market, where vendors were selling just-picked fruits, locally grown vegetables and freshly caught fish. This was the hub of life under the early morning sun.

Brown jeepney ride

Passengers in a brown jeepney look for their destinations as one man stands at the rear, collecting fares. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

We jumped off the yellow jeepney and hopped onto a brown one. We weren’t sure where to get off on this route. Several different iterations of the road name had us worried we wouldn’t find the right street. Was it Bennet Road, Bennette Road, or Bennett Road? Our maps and the locals couldn’t agree on a spelling.

Unsurprisingly, our worries were wasted because all three variations lead us to the same place.

After a tight squeeze and a bumpy mile-long ride down Bennet (or Bennette?) Road on a motorcycle fit with a three-person sidecar, we finally pulled up to the Mercy in Action birthing clinic.

Vicki Penwell, one of the founders of Mercy in Action

Vicki Penwell, one of the founders of Mercy in Action, recalls some of the happy memories from the organization’s trip to Tacloban to aid in Typhoon Yolanda relief efforts. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

Vicki Penwell, who runs the clinic, has been working with midwives in the Philippines for 23 years, moving from island to island to serve pregnant women and recent mothers around the country.

The modest facility had three rooms for patients. In one room, five beds were neatly made for postpartum treatment of new mothers. The clinic embraces a natural birth model that emphasizes an immediate connection between mother and child, so the babies and moms rest in this room together.

Ellen Rainsford breastfeeds her newborn soon

Ellen Rainsford breastfeeds her newborn son, Azer Nathaniel Rainsford, two hours after his birth. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

Behind a door, the next room served as the birthing room. Above a bed with crisp sheets hung a long piece of cloth to support the weight of laboring mothers during delivery. Medical supplies were housed nearby and the room had emergency lights to help keep procedures running smoothly in the event of an all-too-common power outage.

Even when the clinic isn’t facing typhoon winds and rains, the power can go out at a moment’s notice, Penwell said. Before we arrived at the clinic, in fact, the power had been out.

A third room served as a space for routine check-ups, blood pressure readings and heart rate recordings.

The staff at the clinic was all smiles and laughs when we met them. Their own children, some of them born at Mercy in Action, played in the courtyard while they waited for school to start in the afternoon.

Jenifer Bunquin, a midwife at Mercy in Action

Jenifer Bunquin, a midwife at Mercy in Action, monitors a patient’s fetal heart rate. The expectant mother, Loida Sison, is visiting the clinic for a regular check-up. (Photo by Neil Bedi)

During our conversations about Typhoon Yolanda, the midwives, caregivers and ambulance driver we met discussed a host of emotions they felt during their relief work. Both tears and smiles graced their faces before our interviews were finished.

These were our first glimpses into the very personal, raw and still fresh stories of people impacted by the typhoon.