We’re re-posting parts of the interview that the Philippine Daily Inquirer did with OMF Lit Hiyas author Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, or more popularly known to his legions of young fans as Tito Dok. You can read the original article here
HEALING THRU STORYTELLING
‘Tito Dok’s’ tales for kids
By Tina Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:48:00 01/08/2011
MANILA, Philippines—For this pediatrician, helping children does not mean you have to be confined within the four walls of a clinic. Using his pen, Dr. Luis Gatmaitan has woven award-winning stories on and for children, and how to better care for their bodies.
Popularly known as “Tito Dok” among his patients and readers, Gatmaitan has authored and published over 35 children’s books that tackle childhood diseases, children’s rights, hygiene, disabilityand coping with cancer, among others.
His works have earned him numerous awards, including the country’s premier literary contest, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, where he won six times for his children’s fiction and essays in Filipino.
Five of the six Palanca awards he received—all first prize—elevated him to the Palanca Awards Hall of Fame in 2005.
A board exam topnotcher, Gatmaitan took up BS Medical Technology as a pre-med course at the Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation, where he also acquired his degree in medicine. He later specialized in pediatrics and family medicine.
Gatmaitan said writing story books for kids, which he began in 1993, has become his personal crusade, adding that he knew God gave him the gift to write for a purpose—“to create good stories for the enjoyment of Filipino children, including the poor and neglected. Reading is a basic human right and should not be simply for fun, but should be a tool for nation-building.
“I felt I needed to do something to help educate and empower children, knowing how hard it is to be sick and poor in a Third World country.”
To reach out to as many children as possible and to promote a deep appreciation and love for books and reading among Filipino children, parents and teachers, Gatmaitan hosts a weekly storytelling program for radio called “Wan Dey Isang Araw,” featuring locally published children’s books and its authors.
Some of his stories have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, Nihonggo, Mandarin and Thai. A few have been mounted as musicals, opera and animation.
Among his popular works is “Ang Mga Kuwento ni Tito Dok,” a series of children’s books with medical themes like immunization, intestinal parasitism, tooth decay, blood transfusion, dengue fever, sore eyes, common colds, head lice, diarrhea, dog bite, among others.
The series, inspired by the popularity of Severino Reyes’s “Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang,” explains difficult medical concepts in a fun and informative way.
“Mga Kuwento ni Tito Dok” was cited in 2002 by the Manila Critics Circle “for its popularization of the science of medicine in language and illustrations that young children can understand, for its indigenizing of universal scientific principles, and for its imaginative reconstruction of what happens in the human body.”
But he finds the stories of his patients more inspiring.
His “Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel” (“Raquel’s Fantastic Hair”), for instance, is a story about a leukemia patient.
“The bigger issue for the girl was not her cancer, but the fact that she had gone bald and she felt different from the others. When I wrote that story, I focused on her hair because it symbolized her strength as well as the family’s hope in the face of adversity,” he explained.
“Sandosenang Sapatos” (“A Dozen Pairs of Shoes”), on the other hand, is a heartwarming story of a family’s struggle to make life wonderful and as normal as possible for a disabled family member.
Apart from the Palanca Award and other accolades that it has reaped here and abroad, the story was also named the Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities in 2005 by the International Board on Books for Young People.
Translated into different languages, the story was also staged as a musical by the Valenzuela City Center for Performing Arts two years ago.
Gatmaitan spends his Wednesdays at the Pediatric Tumor Clinic of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) in Quezon City for a storytelling session for cancer-afflicted kids. He also assists them during chemotherapy sessions.
The doctor also helps facilitate art therapy sessions all over the country for kids who have experienced tragedies like those caught in armed conflicts.
Two of his Palanca-award winning essays were, in fact, lifted from his experiences and interaction with these children.
While “Tuwing Miyerkules” focuses on his weekly visits to the EAMC, “Tapok and Banlik” is a personal essay that pays tribute to the resiliency of Filipino children, particularly the survivors of the mudslide flash flood tragedy in the towns of Infanta and Real in Quezon province in 2005.
A recipient of the Catholic Mass Media Awards for Best Short Story for Children and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People-Salanga Writers Prize, the doctor was also recognized with a Gawad Dangal ng Wikang Filipino by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino for his contribution to the propagation of Filipino.
He has also been cited as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines in 2003 for his contributions in the field of literature, and as a finalist in the 2004 Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World search.
Just recently, Gatmaitan, who had no formal lessons in creative writing, received a Reading Advocacy Individual Achievement Award from the Reading Association of the Philippines “for the many enlightening and entertaining stories he has woven to inform and delight children and to instill in them the truth of the healing power of reading.”
“I’m more of an intuitive writer,” he said, adding that he used to consider taking up a course in creative writing. “But a friend advised me against it, saying I might become too conscious and my work too stiff.”
The eldest in a brood of five, Gatmaitan said he knew he wanted to become a doctor when he was younger but eventually realized that he could not ignore his other “calling”—to write stories.
Asked which between writing and practicing medicine was more fulfilling, Gatmaitan said: “Medicine and literature are not entirely worlds apart. Why choose between the two when a fusion of two disciplines is better? A good story, just like a good tablet or capsule, can also heal.”
(Dr. Gatmaitan is heard on dzAS Mondays (“Doctors On Line,” 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and Saturdays (“Wan Dey Isang Araw,” 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.)