The first medical sorority in the Philippines and in Asia.
An unbroken line of over a thousand lady doctors from the University of the Philippines Manila.
For renowned individuals such as Dr. Solita F. Camara-Besa, it’s not surprising for them to talk about their achievements as a professional. In case of Sis Lilit, there are much to talk about. Dra. Camara-Besa is recognized as the first Filipina to specialize in Biochemistry. She earned her medical degree and the distinction of cum laude from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1938. Shortly after, she travelled to United States where she was given the prestigious Barbour Scholarship.
In research, she has worked on the Sodium and Potassium content of Filipino foods, paving the way for establishing standards useful in preparation of Filipino diets. She has also given light to the contribution of fats and cholesterol on the epidemiology of atherosclerosis in the Philippines. Her contributions in research have led to her being awarded the position of Academician by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). In addition, she was also given the UPCM Centennial Recognition Award for Medical Education for serving as Department Head of Biochemistry for more than two decades. Not only were awards given to her, but awards to honor her are already being given. This includes the Dr. Solita Camara-Besa Award of Excellence in Biochemistry, given to current UPCM students who have shown brilliance in the field of Biochemistry. Even a flower was named to honor her! A hybrid of gumamela is officially known asHibiscus rosa sinensis “Solita Camara-Besa”.
Despite her achievements, her family and domestic life was all she talked about when we visited her at the two-storey house located at the corner of Nakpil-Bocobo, a stone throw away from our apartment in Nakpil-Orosa. Her youngest son, Tristan, was there to chat with us as well. “This house has been up since the 1950s, that’s why we’re currently renovating”, he said. Despite changes going on with the house, the receiving and dining area still bear the old pictures and portraits, as well as the plaques of recognition that reminds everyone who is queen of the house. And indeed, as Tristan later revealed, no one can do anything but follow when Sis Lilit, now 96, would trivially request for lechon, only to eat the skin and leave the meat behind. When asked whether her mother can put up with the party noise of which our area is known for, he recalled with laughter that Sis Lilit would call up the barangay to complain when it got too noisy downstairs. “Maybe that’s why the bars moved closer to where you live”, he added.
From the house, we then talked about the family that lives in it. “I got four children”, Sis Lilit said with pride. Indeed, Binky, Wee, Tristan, and Amy were sources of joy for Dr. Augusto S. Besa, an orthopedic surgeon and a member of UP College of Medicine Class 1936, and Sis Lilit. Of the four, only Dr. Emmanuel C. Besa, who she fondly referred to as Dr. Wee, followed the footsteps of his parents. “Wee is a very successful hema-oncologist in Philadelphia,” she explained. But more than that, Sis Lilit was prouder of her son’s contributions to UPMASA. “But it’s so he wouldn’t have to pay so much taxes!” she quickly exclaimed with laughter. We couldn’t tell whether she was proud of his son’s generosity or wit, but we were right down impressed with the humor she still exudes.
She then shifted her attention to her youngest son. “When we were at war, you know we had all kinds of hardships to go through. Imagine if you’re also pregnant. That’s what it felt when I had him”, Sis Lilit said while looking at Tristan. She then sheepishly grinned, and revealed, “That’s why he turned out to be a very fine man!” The connection between mother and son was indeed palpable, and Tristan can’t help but blush. As if to change topic, Tristan asked whether the Sorority has stopped during the war. To this, Sis Lilit answered, “What do you mean stopped? Our Sorority is forever!” With nostalgic eyes, she admitted missing the walks around the campus and passing by the hut where sisses would give their warm hellos to her.
The conversation continued further. Amy, her unica ija and youngest child, now puts up restaurants in New York, together with her husband, Chef Romy Dorotan. Sis Lilit also shared that her only daughter is also into writing cookbooks containing Filipino recipes. “I advised her to use coconut oil often”, she said. And, as if being transported back in time when she was still giving interesting lectures in Biochemistry, she added that the oil from coconut is the only one that contains antibacterial, antiviral, antiprotozoan, and antimalarial effects. She could have gone on with the list, if only she doesn’t have weakening physique that currently spends most time lying in bed.
Lastly, Dra. Camara-Besa talked about her beloved husband. Although she did not say much, this was already enough: “Dr. Besa did not join any fraternity, no, because for him I am the only sorority he knows.” With that we giggled together like school girls secretly talking about their crushes. Sis Lilit was indeed grateful of having a loyal and supporting husband. After leaving our gift, we said our goodbyes and our promise to come back for more stories. She, in return, promised she will get better. With her condition, a long chat is already too taxing.
We then continued chatting with Tristan while we were served with generous servings of pansit and ice cream, which were particularly requested by Sis Lilit upon being informed of our intention to come. He shared that Sis Lilit has been in and out of the hospital this past month because of her battle against Pneumonia. “She actually has a living will that she doesn’t want any tubes placed inside her to keep her alive. She said she wants to battle her illnesses on her own. But I think I violated that already”, he admitted. When asked about what she currently does when at home, he said sis Lilit, when not asleep, keeps her mind busy by watching TV. “You wouldn’t believe,” Tristan also shared, “that she wants us to carry her to the stationary bike so she could pedal for a few minutes.”
After the quick bite, we gave thanks and bid goodbyes to the rest of the household. And as we were walking a block away to get home, I can’t help but be grateful of the chance of meeting one of the Sorority’s founders. And although our difference in age is about as old as the Sorority, and what she has accomplished is something we only aspire and yet to achieve, the Sisterhood once again transcended time, and has allowed us to exchange jokes and share laughter with THE Dr. Solita F. Camara-Besa that Thursday afternoon.