More than 5.6 million families, or at least 30 million individuals, in the Philippines are living in poverty, according to a survey by the Philippine government's Department of Social Welfare and Development. There is a huge lack of access to education, hygiene, and health services, resulting in poor health, malnutrition, and being trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Since November 2000, husband and wife Flemming and Elisabet Hansen have been working as volunteers in Cebu City, Philippines, where they established Rise Above Foundation Cebu. The nonprofit organization's mission is to improve the quality of life for people struggling with poverty in Cebu, and it has been providing a wide variety of educational opportunities, livelihood training, and health and hygiene programs for more than two decades.
Danish-born Flemming, who has worked in the nonprofit space since 1973, is the president of Rise Above Foundation, while Norwegian-born Elisabet is the project manager. They lead the organization's various projects, foremost of which are educational, health and hygiene programs. Since 2002, Rise Above has been conducting dental missions two or three times a year. Dentists, dental hygienists, dental technicians, and other support personnel from many different countries travel to the Philippines and work alongside local dentists to provide dental services and treatments to school children and people in underprivileged areas across the province of Cebu.
Dental mission at sports complex
Rise Above says its dental missions, with the help of generous volunteers and donors, have treated more than 45,000 individuals, many of whom have never seen a dentist in their lives. The average cost to treat a patient is just $10, meaning even small donations can go a long way
According to Flemming, there is a dental health crisis in the Philippines among the poor due to the high cost of dental services, compounded by a diet that's very high in sugar, especially soda and junk food, due to poverty. To raise awareness about the importance of basic hygiene, Rise Above holds campaigns in schools and communities promoting toothbrushing and handwashing. Aside from education, the foundation also provides supplies, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hand soap, for just $1 per child.
The Rise Above Community Center in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City hosts dental missions several times per year, with volunteer doctors and dental personnel providing free health checkups, medical and nutrition advice, and basic medications to underserved people.
Aside from medical, dental, and hygiene services, Rise Above also provides free daycare for children and livelihood and handicrafts training for mothers at its Family Care Center. Its food sharing program provides nutritious meals to students at public schools and residents of slum areas, helping address the widespread malnutrition problem in the Philippines. To help lift families from poverty, the foundation's Educational Sponsorship Program provides students with educational materials, uniforms, books, and daily lunch and snacks, allowing them to attend school and get better-paying jobs in the future. These are just a few of Rise Above's numerous activities, not counting special or one-off activities such as disaster relief and house building.
Teacher Jeniffer with students
Obviously, Flemming and Elisabet are not doing this alone. They were joined by Ireneo and Jovita Tangalin in 2001, with Jovita heading the Family Care Center and Ireneo managing construction and maintenance. The Tangalins' daughter, Esther, is the foundation's in-house dentist, playing a vital role in dental missions. The foundation's regular personnel are frequently helped out by an army of volunteers, many of whom have taken time out from their holiday in the Philippines to help out in various tasks, such as teaching, cooking, building, and joining the dental and medical missions. It has also partnered with various organizations, both local and international, to ensure continued operation.
"Over the years, we've seen the incredible extent of poverty in the Philippines," says Flemming. "We've also seen how Filipinos are good at turning their lives around and helping their families. Theirs is a very family-oriented culture, so when a child finishes school and gets a good job, they will often help their brothers and sisters, ensuring no one gets left behind. This is one of the many reasons why Elisabet and I love our work in the Philippines over the past 23 years, because we can see that there's a purpose in the things that we do, and we are never disappointed."
For interested individuals and organizations, the website's donation page lists the various ways to financially support Rise Above Foundation Cebu.
Name: Elisabet Hansen