This year for World Literacy Day, Jerry and I went back and visited Estancia. We spent Friday night making reading packs for 18 of our friends and put them in shiny bags. It was exciting, though Jerry was feeling a bit jealous as we filled them up with story books and coloured pencils.

Arriving in Estancia after the 4 hours bus ride on Saturday morning we set out to visit our friends. Jerry was thrilled to see his old classmates, 2 brothers and a sister. His sister was very emotional and held her little brother closely, shyly talking to each other in quiet whispers.

At our next stop the children were thrilled when they saw their shiny presents. The mothers and I all talked and watched the kids open their books. I particularly loved seeing Rosemary (who I’ve written about many times here on the blog) open her book and gaze at the shining lights. Her little sister and her mother Neda spent some time showing her how to turn on the lights. It was a lovely thing to see.

Jerry and his friends climbed trees, chased each other, made short work of the fruit I brought along for snacks, and climbed down a steep embankment to the ocean. He was visiting a set of rocks where his house used to stand. It was washed away in SuperTyphoon Yolanda November 2013.

About 30 minutes into our visit we noticed that Neda was limping. After some coaxing she reluctantly showed us her wound. A gaping cut just above her ankle, filled with some sort of white cream and looking red and angry. She’d somehow cut herself on some cans and said she was taking antibiotics. I immediately wanted to take her to the hospital but she refused.

“Hadlock ako” she said. [I’m afraid].

After an hour or so we managed to convince her to do it, so my friend Emelyn and I loaded her into a tricycle and set off for the hospital in the next municipality. Jerry and his friends transferred back to Emelyn’s house to watch a movie on the tablet.

At the hospital, the first thing the nurses did was take Neda’s blood pressure. 180/100. The nurse had her lie down immediately and instructed her to relax. Not likely when the doctor hadn’t even looked at her leg. It turns out she’d self-medicated, using a tube of cream I’d given her 2 or 3 years ago when her young daughter had some insect bites. I can’t even remember giving it to her.

The wound was infected and she urgently needed a tetanus shot. The nurse gave her a blood pressure tablet and sent us to the pharmacy to buy tetanus serum – telling us it would be much cheaper to go to the next town rather than buying it at the pharmacy across the road. She was right too.

Taking a gamble with the tricycle drivers, who saw I was a foreigner and wanted to charge us double the going rate to drive us to the pharmacy, Em happened upon her mother’s second cousin who agree to drive us there and back for 80 pesos. It worth worth it. We saved about $20 on the serum.

By the time we returned Neda’s blood pressure had no jumped to 180/110 and she was instructed to go to sleep while we were given another prescription to replace the blood pressure tablet she had been given by the nurse. You see not a single pill, needle, bandage, or blood is provided at a public hospital. You need to go out and buy it (from any pharmacy you like) and then doctors and nurses will administer it.

While I was at the pharmacy inside the hospital to get the tablet, I noticed a big sign over the counter … ‘No Fixers Allowed‘.

As their name suggests a fixer is someone who ‘fixes stuff’. Like if you can’t read and need a driver’s licence, the fixer (for an exorbitant fee) will fix it. Arrange the appointment, do your test for you, and bring you back your licence.¬†People like Neda who have minimal literacy skills are terrified of forms and hospitals and government departments, so they hire ‘fixers‘.

And in seeing Neda on World Literacy Day with a terribly infected leg (with absolutely no concept of how serious the situation was) all because she lacked the basic skills to negotiate the medical system — hit home to me how critical it is to teach people to read.

Two thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women. Women like Neda (and Jerry’s brother who needed a driver’s licence last month) who are preyed upon by fixers and other unscrupulous parties.

So how about we all create a world where there are NO FIXERS ALLOWED. Not because they are banned or put in jail or fined, but because everyone of us the world over is empowered and educated enough not to need them.

Now I’m asking all my readers to think about what you could do in your own community or area of impact to improve rates of literacy and get people reading, thinking and educated enough not to get ripped off by con artists and ‘fixers’.

PS: I”d also like to thank the people who sent a few donations in the past weeks, these were surely a help in getting us to Estanica, buying the book packs for the kids, helping Neda to hospital and paying for her treatment, plus giving her some money to replace her lost income so she could buy rice and food for her family.

no fixers allowed in this hospital