Meet Fatima "Girlie" Garcia-Lorenzo, the First Ashoka Fellow from the Philippines

Submitted on Mon, October 20, 2014

Fatima “Girlie” Garcia-Lorenzo is the very first Ashoka Fellow from the Philippines. She is also the first Making More Health Fellow from the country.  Making More Health is a global initiative and partnership between Boehringer-Ingelheim and Ashoka to promote health and wellness among individuals, families, and communities by identifying and supporting social innovators in health.

Girlie is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Kythe, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of life among children who have cancer and other chronic illness.

“Being an Ashoka Fellow gives me a sanctuary wherein I can express my new ideas among like-minded people and learn from their best practices as well.”

Girlie’s journey as a social innovator begins with a child named Paul.

Paul had a tumor that was as big as a tennis ball in his left eye. But he walked with a very cool demeanor, like he had no problems at all, like he had no cancer. Girlie remembers Paul taking his chemotherapy treatments with a nonchalant façade, with him asking casually, “Tapos na ba? Maglalaro pa ako eh.” (Is it done? I still have to play.) He was a real siga. Siga is the Filipino word for someone who has a proud and tough exterior. It is also the Filipino word for ‘starting a fire,’ which is very apt as Paul was the spark that ignited Girlie’s passion and dedication for her life’s work.

Paul initially caught Girlie’s attention through his demeanor and courage. Over time, Girlie developed a special bond with Paul and always looked for him at the hospital. She even celebrated one of her birthdays in his honor, raising over 60,000 Pesos for his chemotherapy treatments. While the tumor decreased in size after the treatments, Paul eventually lost his battle with cancer. Paul’s passing was Girlie’s very first encounter with death. In the midst of grieving over Paul and feeling the huge emotional toll it took on her, Girlie realized that if she were to give up on the work that she has been doing, she would also be giving up on many other children who, just like Paul, needed support. Girlie decided to carry on and work even harder.

Through Kythe, Girlie has been working towards the full integration of psychosocial support in the formal treatment of pediatric patients who are chronically and terminally ill. Because of a inefficient healthcare system, hospitals do not always lend importance to psychosocial support services for their patients. To fix this, Girlie and her team of Child Life Specialists have been providing indigent pediatric patients and their families counseling and emotional support, as well as assistance during medical procedures – including taking time to explain the child’s medical condition and consequent needs to the parents, and resource mobilization.

On the other side of the coin, Girlie also recognizes the needs of the medical staff who attend to children who are terminally ill. Kythe likewise provides psychosocial support and Passion for Caring seminars to doctors, nurses, and caregivers to enable, empower, and re-energize them to give proper care to their patients. Kythe serves as a crucial link that bridges the medical staff and their pediatric patients.

To mobilize and sustain support for their activities and programs, Kythe organizes and brings in volunteers – students, corporate employees, and other individuals – to play with the kids, creating lifelong and impactful connections. The volunteers are trained on how to interact with children who are hospitalized frequently for their chronic illness. An exciting time for both the volunteers and the children is the annual summer camp, wherein children get to go out of the hospital and spend time just playing and enjoying each other’s company.

Video from Kythe; by Ian Celis Productions

On a national level, Girlie is uniting various patient advocacy groups as a powerful lobbying front, and she is also starting to engage mayors and councilors in local government units. Girlie plans to engage PhilHealth to encourage them to integrate psychosocial support in the national healthcare system. For hospitals to recognize psychosocial support as a powerful tool in increasing patient survival, Kythe is conducting evidence-based research to present data and results to policymakers and stakeholders. Kythe is currently transitioning from being a service-provider to a becoming a capacity-builder.  Similar to a franchise business model, Kythe hopes to achieve scale by transferring the Kythe Child Life Program system to a partner-hospital then pull-out after 2 years, confident that the hospital can run the Program on its own.  Kythe will continue to monitor the program and provide incentives for best practices.  With this strategy, Kythe can share its Child Life Program to other hospitals so more Filipino pediatric patients can benefit from the Kythe Child Life Program.

Ashoka Philippines, in partnership with Boehringer-Ingelheim Philippines, is very proud to have Girlie as our first Ashoka and Making More Health Fellow from the Philippines. Girlie, together with her team of Kythe Child Specialists and volunteers, is changing the healthcare system of the country for chronically ill children to get the care and support they need to overcome the pain they experience everyday and to enjoy life as children ought to do. We look forward to introducing our next batch of Fellows in the next few months.

Also read: Maria Fatima "Girlie" Garcia-Lorenzo Full Ashoka Profile