Dra. Malou Villavicencio: A Figure of Compassion and Service

Dra. Ma. Luisa Villavicencio is a key member in Gota de Leche’s efforts in spreading nutritional awareness to its beneficiaries. She’s a second-generation Gota volunteer, and a symbol of the foundation’s long-standing commitment to mothers and children. To Gota’s beneficiaries, she is simply Dra. Malou, a compassionate soul who is just as likely to dole out a light-hearted quip as health and nutritional advise. Get to know Dra. Malou and her work with the interview below:

Q: How long did your mom work with Gota de Leche?

MV: For as long as I remember. Since I was small, she already worked with the children.

Q: When was this? And did you visit her at Gota de Leche?

MV: I was born in 1957, my mom graduated medicine in 1962 or 1954. She worked in Manila Children’s Hospital and since Gota de Leche was connected with Manila Children’s (she also volunteered at Gota de Leche). We also used to live here in Sampaloc, so we just walked to her hospital to visit her when she was on duty… it’s more of the patients that I remember.

Q: Were you inspired by your mother’s medical work?

MV: Yes, the exposure (inspired me).

Q: And what inspired you to follow her footsteps and volunteer at Gota de Leche?

MV: Because of Tita Lulu Sarabia! (Laughter) (Editor’s note: Lourdes “Lulu” Sarabia was the second executive director of Gota de Leche, and worked with the foundation until her death in April 2011)

Q: Regarding your Gota patients, what condition are they in when they first approach you? And do they tell you their personal problems?

MV: They’re usually undernourished. So I ask them the appropriate questions. Their conditions are mostly undernourished and impoverished. And at a very young age, they have so many children already. You try to counsel them (by providing parenting advice).

Q: When you counsel them, whether related to health or otherwise, do you meet any resistance? How do you make them receptive to your advice? 

MV: I give advice in a light-hearted manner. For example, I ask them how old they are, and how many kids they have. They would say ‘Thirty’ and I would ask ‘And how many kids do you have?’ and they would six. I’d try to tell them make it one dozen! (Laughter) You just have to find their kiliti. (Soft spot)

Q: Do you see improvements as the months go by?

MV: Yeah. We want the (under-nourished) kids to gain weight. There are some who come here, after a few months – some after only one month – you see a great improvement. They gain about one kilo. You can see that it (Gota de Leche’s efforts) helps them.

You have to bear in mind that if you give them milk, and the kids are from a large family, the milk will not be only for the child. This will be shared by the whole family. So, the improvement is not as ideal because it’s not only theirs. (Editor’s note: The milk that Gota de Leche provides is intended for the children only. The foundation and its doctors, including Dra. Villavicencio, educate parents on the proper use and consumption of the milk by their children.)

The mothers also need to remove the impression that the milk and vitamins are the factors that help the children gain weight. The vitamins are not a means to increase weight. It’s really nutrition… proper nutrition. I always tell the mothers, you need more than milk and vitamins. You have to ensure their proper nutrition.

So a big part of helping involves counseling them on proper nutrition.

Q: What are the mothers’ attitudes towards breast-feeding and nutrition?

MV: breast-feeding is good, but up to a certain age only. Purely breast-feeding for six months. But after six months you have to have solid food already. Because breast milk is not enough. It does not contain the proper nutrients anymore (for older children). They have to be supplemented by solid foods.

If the mother is breast-feeding, but she is already malnourished… so what does she get? And what does the child get? Breastfeeding when the child is older, like five years of age, the mother is using her breast like a pacifier. It’s not the best medium for the child to get nutrients. It becomes a habit that they need to latch on to the mother.

Apart from the material benefits mothers and children receive at Gota de Leche, what other benefits do they gain from your work here?

MV: They become empowered. And moms become more knowledgeable (about nutrition and good parenting).

What’s the biggest hurdle you and Gota de Leche encounter?

MV: It’s really the financial situation of the parents, and attempting to educate them. Both parents, not just the moms. Most of these mothers are housewives. Very few of them work. If they work, they work from the house. Such as cottage industries, or they accept laundry jobs.