In conjunction with the relief distribution and the humanity course under the Happy Schooling Scheme, Sandakan volunteers and TIMA doctors held free clinics on October 1, 2016, at Kg Ulu Lingkabau, Kg Kabuluh and SK Tangkarason. More than 340 natives were attended to at these three free clinics, which included general and dental consultations.
One person serving one hundred villagers
At the Kg Ulu Lingkabau free clinic, only one doctor, Chai Kean Chung, and a pharmacist, Chin Kim Lin (from KL & Selangor) were on duty. The turnout of patients was surprisingly high.
Kim Lin found this trip very meaningful. His feeling was summed up by one short sentence: “Luckily I came.” Due to work commitments, he could not fly on the same flight as the KL & Selangor volunteers. Instead, he flew on a separate flight and joined the others later.
In the normal free clinic, the medical personnel would wait for everything to be properly set up before taking their seats. However, on this occasion, due to the shortage of volunteers, even the doctors had to personally get involved in the set-up.
Both Dr Chai and Kim Lin went to the village community hall early, carted the tables and chairs to the free clinic area, and arranged all the medications and facilities. With more and more people arriving, Dr Chai had to personally distribute the waiting numbers to the villagers occasionally besides attending to the patients and writing prescriptions. Kim Lin was in charge of retrieving and dispensing medications in addition to explaining to the villagers on the proper consumption of medicine.
Since the free clinic held in April 2016, the villagers have, by words of mouth, been telling others to attend the free clinic to see a doctor and get medications. As early as 8 am, more than a hundred villagers were there waiting for the numbers. Dr Chai and Kim Lin had served in total 132 villagers that day.
To Kim Lin, the most unforgettable case was the Harimau family, who had to walk two hours through the jungle to the free clinic as they could not afford to pay for the boat ride. Just the day before, volunteers took a boat ride to visit this family. They found that his five-year-old son was having a fever and was given medication meant for adults. Kim Lin realized that being poor, they had no other choice.
Despite his hectic work schedule, Kim Lin was glad to have the opportunity to join the local TIMA members and Tzu Chi volunteers on home visits and house calls, as well as, participate in the free clinics at Paitan. He has seized every opportunity to contribute as through witnessing the suffering of life, he has discovered how blessed he is.
In addition, he was very touched by the selfless contribution of some Sandakan male volunteers, who prepared breakfast for everyone in the morning. During the day, they also assumed other roles like driving, transporting heavy stuff and coordinating all other matters. Despite their varied roles, which could have drained their energy, they were still able to smile and care for others.
Seeing doctor is very comforting
The ever smiling Dr Chai hails from Kampar, Perak. In 2014, he was posted to Sandakan General Hospital’s emergency ward. As a TIMA member, he then joined the Sandakan Tzu Chi volunteers for free clinics at Paitan and home visits under the Happy Schooling Scheme.
To him, Paitan is a familiar place. He has been in touch with numerous natives and listened to many of their stories, some sad and some happy ones.
He said, “Most of the natives do not have major illnesses. They hardly have the chance to see a doctor. So, when they hear of free clinic, they would come just to see the doctor; literally to see what the doctor looks like and to chat with them. With some comforting words from the doctor and some medicine to bring home, they would feel very satisfied.”
As the natives live quite far in the jungle, they cannot get medicine easily when they are sick. That is why they like to visit the free clinic just to take medicine for headaches and stomach aches. When Dr Chai mentioned this unusual kind of patients, he burst into laughter.
Having understood the natives’ mentality, he would spend time to chat and listen to them at every free clinic. Even with shortage of doctors, he would still be cheerful, listen to their cases, and sacrifice his visits to the washroom. He would sit for five continuous hours and repeatedly apply his stethoscope, jot medical details, prescribe medications and so on.
Dr Chai is very grateful to the steadfast leadership of Hsieh Hsiu Hua, person-in-charge of Sandakan Liaison Office, and the untiring effort of volunteer Kiing Teck Ngie in lending support to the biannual free clinic at Paitan.
“It’s not difficult to hold a free clinic in the city area. However, there are a lot of challenges and difficulties to hold a free clinic at Paitan,” Dr Chai remarked. He admitted that for every free clinic, transportation had proven to be the most difficult part. Therefore, to facilitate the transportation of medicine and medical equipment, the free clinic was usually held in a school or community hall, which is accessible by road.
As the school or community hall is frequently located within an oil palm estate where the road condition is undulating, the driving skill and patience of the driver is tested. At times when it rains, the road turns too slippery for the vehicle to move. Although everyone is brave enough to move forward, they still have to remind each other to remain cautious on the road conditions.
The other challenge is that most natives have very little knowledge on health and cleanliness. When sick, they will apply traditional cure. Furthermore, the drinking water is polluted and the food is not clean. Because of that, prolonged cough easily develops into tuberculosis, which is even more difficult to treat.
In view of the above, one very important activity at the free clinic is to have educational talks on health and hygiene. Hence, other than getting doctors to help at the free clinic, Dr Chai also looks for medical personnel to give talks. In fact, the hardest part is to invite speakers.
Once, there were some invited doctors who could not turn up at the last minute and as a result, the medicine was not delivered. Dr Chai felt very sad to have disappointed the natives waiting to get the medicine. After some discussions with Hsiu Hua and Teck Ngie, they decided to form TIMA and recruit more medical personnel to serve the natives. His ultimate aim is not to disappoint the natives.
According to Dr Chai, the other challenge is shortage of manpower. As there was not enough volunteers at every free clinic at Paitan, doctors had to sweep the rooms, carry and arrange tables and chairs, handle and prescribe medicine, and so on.
“At Paitan, doctors would need to do a lot more. Not only do they attend to patients but they also fill in other roles whenever and wherever required,” Dr Chai added.
To Dr Chai, the little contribution for natives is part of his duties. His job at the emergency ward gave him the opportunity to witness life and death. As such, he realized how precious life is and how important health is. Therefore, his ultimate wish is take care of the natives’ health.
The many years of efforts by Tzu Chi in holding free clinics and relief distributions in Paitan have brought much love and warmth to the natives in Paitan.
Photo shows the bus stopping by the roadside and volunteers changing to four-wheel drive vehicles to move through the sandy and rocky terrains. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]
Doctors and volunteers worked hand-in-hand to transfer materials from Kg Ulu Lingkabau to the next two stations of free clinic and humanity class. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
Pharmacist Chin Kim Lin (front) and Dr Chai Kean Chung personally carried the tables and chairs for the setting up of free clinic. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]
Villagers waited to see the doctor at the free clinic held at a local community hall in Kg Ulu Lingkabau. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]
Another free clinic was held simultaneously at SK Tangkarason. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]
Pharmacist Chin Kim Lin was responsible for dispensing the medications and explaining to villagers on how to consume the medicine. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]
The medicine on the table was prepared for the villagers. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]