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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 18 November 2017 00:00

We Saw Your Needs

Written by  Tzu Chi Documenting Team, Tawau / Translated by Ong Mooi Lin

Majority of the villagers in Kampung Titingan cannot afford medical expenses. The free clinic organized by Tzu Chi brought smiles to their faces. [Photograph by Foo Fang Teng]

There is a marginalized and underprivileged group of people, squatting in wooden stilt houses at Kampung Titingan, Tawau. Due to their undocumented status, they are denied public health benefits. Seeing their needs for medical treatments, Tzu Chi volunteers organized a large-scale free clinic for two consecutive days from November 18, 2017, and provided 2,776 treatments in total.


In Tawau, a town located on the Southeast coast of Sabah, the population of undocumented residents, comprising Sulu people from the Philippines, Indonesians and the Bajau sea-nomads, has exceeded the population of local people. For example, in Kampung Titingan, about two-thirds of the residents are undocumented immigrants living in a poor condition in the largest slum area along the coastal areas.

Most of the residents in Kampung Titingan have little education and live on meagre incomes doing hard labour jobs. Due to their undocumented status, they are not entitled to social and medical benefits offered by the Malaysian Government, and their children are denied entry to national schools. As such, the children always wander around begging, or sell plastic bags, tissue paper or snacks in the market; and some have even been exploited for illegal activities. With a high crime rate, that area is a “black area” people dreaded to visit.

From their few years of interactions with the villagers of Kampung Titingan, Tzu Chi volunteers in Tawau discovered their medical needs and thought of organizing free medical outreach for them. As the first health screening held in 2014 could not fulfil the various medical needs, the volunteer-in-charge of Tzu Chi Tawau, Lo Jin Oi, sought assistance from Dr Tong Yan Yee, a surgeon with Hospital Tawau. The latter agreed to help right away and invited a few other doctors to join him, making it possible for three free clinics in Kampung Titingan to be held thereafter.

Serious pollutions increase health risks

The hygiene at the illegal settlement is very poor. Trash and excrement float everywhere on the water, and without clean water source and proper lavatories, health issues, such as, skin diseases and head lice problems are common among the villagers. There were also expectant mothers, who could not afford pre-natal check-ups; terminal cancer patients, who were uninformed of the seriousness of their illnesses; tuberculosis patients, who did not know that their illness was infectious; hypertension patients, who were unaware of their risk of having a stroke, and so on. Due to the low health awareness and the tremendous increase of patients from 168 persons in 2014 to 735 persons in 2016, volunteers decided to hold a large-scale free clinic for two consecutive days from November 18, 2017, for the villagers. The services provided included Western and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments, gynaecological examinations, dental care, ear-nose-throat examinations, feeding of roundworm medications, head lice treatments, oral care education, physiotherapy, and others.

On the early morning of November 18, the medical team drove through the narrow and winding road and passed through the low-cost houses before arriving at SK Kampung Titingan, where the free clinic was held. The sky was just turning bright at around 6 am, yet some villagers were already there waiting for the free clinic to commence more than two hours later.

The medical team comprised of 74 medical personnel and 173 volunteers from KL & Selangor, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Lahad Datu. There were also seven Taiwanese volunteers, who came all the way to help set up the dental equipment. With everyone giving their best in safeguarding the villagers’ health, a total of 2,776 treatments were provided over the two days.

Alleviating suffering through medical and emotional care

Thirty-five-year-old Maulidah had a small sebaceous cyst on his back. It grew larger as he aged, and he had to sleep on his side to avoid the pain when the cyst was pressed. Dr Tong advised, “A 3-cm sebaceous cyst that is not removed would either maintain its size or grow larger, and may result in inflammation or bacterial infections.” With Maulidah’s consent, Dr Tong removed his cyst on the spot.

After the surgical procedures, Maulidah expressed joyfully, “I feel so relieved and happy now. Thank you Tzu Chi and doctor for making medical treatments possible for the poor.”

On the other hand, 15-year-old Nirainy had a pus-filled bump on the back of her hand. It was itchy and medicinal ointment was ineffective. Doctor suggested its removal as otherwise the wound would spread larger and become more difficult to treat. While the doctor carried out the procedures on Nirainy, some medical personnel and volunteers chit-chatted with her to divert her attention. She was satisfied with the surgical treatment.

Depending on the patients’ needs, the teams of medical personnel and volunteers also visited the patients at their homes to provide them with medical and emotional care. This included prescriptions of medications, dressing of wounds and physiotherapy treatments.

Relieving pain in 20 minutes

Some villagers, who had no complaints of physical illnesses, went for medical check-ups and took home some vitamin pills.

“Come, put the candy in your mouth and take a deep breath.” That was how the Chinese physicians diverted the patients’ attention when giving acupuncture treatments. The patients would leave happily 20 minutes later, with their pain relieved.

Forty-four-year-old Lainu bin Lajewah, who has a heart disease, could only operate a small-capital business at home due to his health condition. He was confident with TCM treatments as his mother had recovered from a stroke after receiving acupuncture treatments. He arrived on the first day of the free clinic complaining about the ache on the left side of his upper body, but went home disappointed as his blood pressure was too high for TCM treatments. He returned the second day and felt much better after being given acupuncture and moxibustion treatments.

Another villager, Dalle, injured his right eye when he was harvesting a cassava two years ago. He dismissed the doctor’s advice for an eye surgery to clear the blood clots as he could not afford the surgical costs. He said sadly, “Since then, my right eye’s vision is poor, and it always feels dry so I have to keep rubbing it to ease the discomfort.”

Chinese physician Ng Kok Ching, who performed acupuncture treatment on Dalle, commented that his high blood pressure could be one of the reasons for his poor eyesight. He hoped that the acupuncture treatment could ease Dalle’s discomfort.

Breaking through obstacles

Extracting a tooth costs about RM20 or higher, thus, tooth decay and toothache are major concerns for both the young and old. The number of villagers seeking tooth extractions and fillings has been increasing in the past two years; and it was the same this year. Even nine dentists could not accommodate and cater to the needs, and they had to stop accepting patients for dental services at 11 am on the second day.

Fifty-six-year-old Pasita bte Sumanthi expressed her pain, “I had to bear with my toothache because I could not afford the dental costs, and I would only get painkillers from the pharmacy when I could not endure it any longer.” She was overjoyed to experience a dental treatment for the first time in her life, and it was free of charge!

Dentist Lim Chin Shiow commented, “The villagers need to be educated and enhance their awareness on oral care.” To her, it was challenging to provide treatments with only simple dental equipment, but she overcame it with heedfulness to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Coaxing the children to take medications

Parijah’s five-year-old son loves to play in the sand but not washing his hands after that. She later realized that he might has roundworms infection. Thus, when she heard about the free clinic, she marked the date and brought her son for medication feeding that day.

Volunteer nurse, Ang Chiew Xian, coaxed the boy to take the roundworm medication saying, “Boy, this medication tastes as good as melted ice-cream!” After having the medication, the boy proceeded to have his head lice treatment.

Having scrubbed the tangled hair infested with head lice with medications for a whole day, the volunteers were all exhausted with sore hands and legs. Nonetheless, they resumed their roles the following day without complaints, all for the welfare of the underprivileged group.

Syirah, who keeps long hair, has head lice. She kept in mind the nurse’s advice to avoid sharing personal items, such as, comb and pillow, with others, and to wash her hair daily. She hoped that her head lice problem will be cleared once and for all after the treatment.

While many are pursuing high-end technological products and indulging themselves in online shopping spree, there is a group of people struggling to have food on their tables. Volunteers saw their needs for medical care, and while responding to their needs, they sincerely hope that more people could contribute to the free clinic and warm the villagers’ hearts with their care and love.

 

 

The living environment of the undocumented immigrants squatting in stilt houses in Kampung Titingan is very poor. The hygiene awareness is also low among the villagers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]   The large-scale free clinic held over two days had benefitted more than 2,000 villagers. [Photograph by Foo Fang Teng]

The living environment of the undocumented immigrants squatting in stilt houses in Kampung Titingan is very poor. The hygiene awareness is also low among the villagers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]
 
The large-scale free clinic held over two days had benefitted more than 2,000 villagers. [Photograph by Foo Fang Teng]
 
The number of patients seeking dental treatments has been increasing as the villagers cannot afford the costly dental fees. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]   Some volunteers worked through the day to provide head lice treatments for the children. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]

The number of patients seeking dental treatments has been increasing as the villagers cannot afford the costly dental fees. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]
 
 
Some volunteers worked through the day to provide head lice treatments for the children. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]
 
The Chinese physicians performed acupuncture and moxibustion treatments to cure and ease the suffering of villagers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]   
When she heard about the free clinic, Parijah marked the date and brought her child for roundworm treatment that day. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]

The Chinese physicians performed acupuncture and moxibustion treatments to cure and ease the suffering of villagers. [Photograph by Lim Su Nguan]
 
 
When she heard about the free clinic, Parijah marked the date and brought her child for roundworm treatment that day. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]
 
Maulidah had the sebaceous cyst on his back removed. After the surgery, he expressed joyfully, “I feel so relieved and happy now. Thank you Tzu Chi and doctor for making medical treatments possible for the poor.” [Photograph by Foo Fang Teng]   Principal Hasan Kadir, who has allowed Tzu Chi volunteers to hold the free clinic in the school compound for two consecutive years, hopes that the medical team could continue to provide free medical services for the villagers there. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]

Maulidah had the sebaceous cyst on his back removed. After the surgery, he expressed joyfully, “I feel so relieved and happy now. Thank you Tzu Chi and doctor for making medical treatments possible for the poor.” [Photograph by Foo Fang Teng]
 
 
Principal Hasan Kadir, who has allowed Tzu Chi volunteers to hold the free clinic in the school compound for two consecutive years, hopes that the medical team could continue to provide free medical services for the villagers there. [Photograph by Boon Wui Kong]/div>