Full name: Divina Varias Ilustre
Birthplace: Manila, Philippines
Hobbies: Piano-playing, reading, taking short treks,
Years with MSF? I have been with MSF since 1995
mostly with Holland group but also with Switzerland and Spain.
Previous MSF Missions? Two missions in Angola;
four in Sri Lanka; one each in Colombia and the Democratic Republic
In retrospect, what was your overall impression of your
mission in Sri Lanka?
It was very challenging and yet very gratifying. I have always
gone back to Mallavi on different missions because I like the work,
the people and hospital team and the many different MSF teams with
whom I worked with. The work showed results because I was told that
the patients would be asking for me and seemed very pleased to see
me again and again back in the field. Because I have returned so
many times, I have been involved with the lives of patients and
the national staff and their families.
What role do you think obstetric care plays in an isolated
place like Mallavi?
Obstetrics care plays a very important role in these areas. People
travel by bicycle from far away and emergency cases really need
fast action. At times, we had cases in which mothers delivered in
a cart on the way to the hospital. This is why we occupied an adjoining
ward which we named "Mallavi Hotel" – to admit cases
before their expected dates because when the labor pains start,
the mothers have difficulty coming to the hospital for lack of transportation
and perhaps the absence of relatives. Oftentimes, only the small
children are in the house, with the husband working somewhere.
We also had an excellent antenatal clinic to give lessons to mothers
regarding delivery and childcare, as well as a gynecological consultation
day. And the women did really come for consultations even after
their first child.
What did the mission mean to you as a professional or personal
As far as obstetrics and gynecology is concerned I had a very busy
practice with a large number of complicated cases and I took care
of referred cases from two other government hospitals. We handled
only the emergencies and oftentimes really very immediate cases
that would demand quick and fast action. I must say that we had
an excellent team among the midwives and the operating theater boys
(the fastest I have worked with in all my experience). I teamed
up with many surgeons and had a good interchange of knowledge with
them. In southern Philippines during the conflict I was able to
sharpen my surgical knowledge; the same thing happened to me in
Sri Lanka with OB/GYN. I also had an excellent relation with the
Tamil specialist in the big government hospital to whom I referred
my difficult cases that were not emergencies and that therefore
did not need immediate attention.
What are your hopes for the population of Sri Lanka?
The Mallavi Project was closed when I left due to the diminishing
number of hospital cases, as the people displaced by the war returned
to their homes. I would hope that peace would continue to be a concrete
reality so that the people can again experience normal life.
What influenced your choice of profession?
I spent my childhood in Mindanao, southern Philippines. I was very
much influenced by the lives of the religious missionaries with
whom I came in contact in my formative years – the American
Jesuits and the Maryknoll Sisters of New York. My religious belief
is the main moving force in my life. The strong example of my mother
and her strong religious conviction and unconditional generosity
towards the needy has greatly influenced my life.
What sparked your interest in humanitarian work?
My interest in humanitarian work was a long ongoing process that
has been continuously reinforced by the different experiences working
with the marginalized, the deprived, the needy and the poor. Perhaps
I don't feel so comfortable in working in a traditional hospital
and even living in an affluent society, although sometimes I enjoy
Most memorable moment with MSF?
It is quite difficult to pinpoint because I am a person who enjoys
the little things in life and who enjoys the present. On the whole,
I have enjoyed working with different teams and with different nationalities.
I have enjoyed the moments when my patients would kiss me goodbye
in gratitude for being taken cared of well, after a difficult struggle,
and sharing this with the team. The Angola M'Bangza Congo project
(my first MSF mission) was particularly memorable for its difficulty
–very poor people and very difficult work – but also
because of the excellent people I worked with.
Anything else you'd like to share about yourself or your
I learned a long time ago that I could work with different kinds
of people of different nationalities and I could develop very good
relationship with the people of any country. If I miss a place,
it is because I miss the people!
About my work:
I am most happy if I am in the field and could do something to make
my little world around me a better world.