May 22, 2023
From photographer to blood donor
By Joy Rojas
It sounded like a simple assignment: to cover the five Tzu Chi caregiver scholars who answered the call to donate blood for Marietta Awel, wife of Andy Awel, a logistics staffer of Tzu Chi Foundation’s Agno branch. Marietta and Andy are the parents of Lea and Rachel Awel, conjoined twins who were separated after a six-hour surgery at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in 2003. Now their mother was in the hospital and in need of five units of blood (four units of any blood type, one unit of A+).
Marella Saldonido, Tzu Chi Communications Department’s web and social media coordinator, proceeded to the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center on May 17 to take pictures of the activity, with Comms Department website developer and photographer Matt Adrian Serrano joining as backup.
Of the five scholars who volunteered to donate blood, only Lerma Villocillo passed the stringent requirements. The three female scholars had low hemoglobin scores, while the lone male scholar from Bhutan had only been in the country for three months, three months short of the six-month requirement of international law.
“So, I asked the doctor if I can donate,” says Matt. As luck would have it, the last-minute blood donor was not only qualified to donate, his blood type matched the patient’s.
No feedback yet on how the patient is doing, but being able to help a friend was a reward in itself. “Kuya Andy and I became close when the Comms Department was still holding office in Agno,” he says. “Besides, I had always wanted to donate blood. The first time I did was for the Red Cross when I was in college.”
Like his spur-of-the-moment decision to donate, Matt’s foray into photography for Tzu Chi was unplanned. “At the time, there were events happening simultaneously, so I volunteered to shoot,” he says. A basic knowledge of photography plus camera tips from his co-workers honed his skill and eye. Before he knew it, he was juggling the job of maintaining Tzu Chi’s website and social media accounts with shooting pictures for numerous events.
This unexpected turn in his career has taken him around the Philippines, including Talaingod, the municipality some 130 kilometers away from downtown Davao. In June 2022, Tzu Chi volunteers presented an indigenous community with 2,500 banana seedlings to start a sustainable livelihood program. Together with the volunteers, Matt walked for hours and crossed a river and rough terrain to get to the rural destination.
If the assignment was doubly memorable, it’s because it was Matt’s first time to travel by plane, an experience made possible by his stepping forward to volunteer. He has since flown on assignment again, in February 2023 to Palo, Leyte, where he documented the groundbreaking ceremony of a permanent housing project for survivors of Typhoon Yolanda.
As part of Tzu Chi’s Communications Department since December 2020, Matt appreciates how volunteers show respect and compassion for people from all walks of life.
“I also like how we are able to help beneficiaries,” he says. “We may not help them financially, but our presence and what we do in Communications is a form of help.”
As to what his personal and professional goals are, Matt admits with a laugh, “I have a planner but there’s nothing written on it!”
No matter. For this unexpected photographer and last-minute blood donor, every day is an adventure and an opportunity to do something good for others.