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Nuns Help Rural Women Make Cough Syrup From Native Shrub

June 30 2008

Evelyn Garonita pours water into a plastic basin filled with dried leaves in her small kitchen "pharmacy."

The president of Kababayen-an sa Casay (women of Casay) is washing leaves of the Lagundi shrub, which her association uses to make cough syrup.

Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul nuns taught the group to make herbal medicine in 2000 under the community-based health program of their Indigenous Peoples´ Apostolate in Santo Nino Parish. The parish is based in Malangas town, Zamboanga Sibugay province, 790 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Women from 36 households in the farming community of Casay, in the province´s Roseller T. Lim town, now make the cough syrup. "After washing the leaves, we will boil them for four to five hours until the syrup gets sticky and black," the 42-year-old Garonita told UCA News in early June.

Mothers in her group decided to make Lagundi syrup because children in their community often suffer from coughs, and "most of us could not afford to buy commercial medicines sold at the drugstores because they are expensive," she explained. "So with the help of the nuns we produced the cough syrup ourselves."

Studies from the national Department of Science and Technology have found that Lagundi contains various substances such as Chrysoplenol D that produce an antihistamine effect. Philippine medical doctors prescribe Lagundi syrup for coughs and asthma, and drug stores now sell Lagundi tablets. With approval from the Bureau of Food and Drugs, a children´s cough syrup made from Lagundi was recently introduced in the market.

Garonita recalled the nuns started the project in her town with just nine local women. Today various teams involving more than 36 association members take turns making the medicine on alternate weeks, "so we can also attend to our families´ needs."

Daughters of Charity Sister Rosalinda Belotindos, who continues to supervise the project, told UCA News it aims to develop local women´s skills and promote the use of local herbs.

She expressed hope that enhancing the women´s "skills and capabilities" will ultimately "uplift" their self-esteem and enable them to contribute more to community building.

The association has increased its monthly production from about 30 to 120 bottles, each containing 250 milliliters of syrup, after the government loaned it 50,000 pesos (US$1,119). Garonita said a bottle sells for 30 pesos.

"Half of the proceeds go to the association and the rest is divided equally and credited to members, but members can only get their share when there are immediate needs from their families," she explained. More than the "small money" members get, she stressed, "we have learned to work as a community in addressing the problems we are facing."

The Daughters of Charity nuns are among 16 Religious congregations of men and women who minister in Ipil prelature, which covers 16 municipalities of Zamboanga Sibugay and three towns in neighboring Zamboanga del Sur province.

Sixty-eight percent of the people in the prelature are Catholics and most of the rest are other Christians, Muslims and indigenous people with native beliefs.