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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 16 December 2017 00:00

A Decade of Commitment and Beyond

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Yip Sook Ying

The TIMA team cut a cake to mark the ten years of service rendered at the Tzu-Chi Free Clinic (KL) and mobile clinic in Selayang. [Photograph by Chan Boon Huat]

“Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” In the midst of the birthday song, Dr Eddie Chan and Dr Foo Seay Liang, both TIMA members, happily cut the cake to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the medical team’s efforts in safeguarding lives.

On the evening of December 16, 2017, some 120 medical personnel and volunteers gathered at the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall to share the joy of a decade of medical services rendered at Tzu-Chi Free Clinic (KL), including the monthly medical outreach in Selayang. That evening, everyone strolled down memory lane, reminiscing the touching and memorable moments in the past decade.

Difficult time seeking for a venue

The Tzu-Chi Free Clinic (KL) set up by Tzu Chi KL & Selangor in Jalan Pudu, is a familiar place for many Myanmar refugees in that area, who are without money and legal identity to seek medical treatment elsewhere. Besides the refugees, Tzu Chi care recipients and eligible underprivileged group also seek treatment at the Free Clinic.

Lee Mun Keat, a long-time volunteer and staff, recalled that UNHCR approached Tzu Chi in 2004, because of a case involving a refugee. In 2005, the two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and since then, Tzu Chi volunteers were allowed to provide medical services in detention camps in Lenggeng, Semenyih and Bukit Jalil.

Volunteers worked closely with UNHCR staff, and went downtown to assess the refugees’ needs. They discovered that medical care and educational opportunity were most needed. Mun Keat recalled vividly that he had just returned from a relief mission in Sri Lanka when he was assigned the task of looking for a suitable location to hold the free clinic in 2006.

He recounted, “Most of the refugees were found staying around Bukit Bintang and Jalan Imbi areas. Hence, it would be strategic for holding the free clinic. However, the plan had to be shelved because being in the town centre, the rental was high. We also considered renting a school for our mobile clinic, but the request was turned down by the school.”

After all the efforts, volunteers finally found a kindergarten run by a Sri Lankan organization near the wet market in Jalan Imbi. So, from November 2006, Tzu Chi began to run monthly mobile clinics for refugees, serving mainly those from Myanmar. In 2007, another monthly mobile clinic was set-up in a Chinese primary school in Selayang.

Mun Keat went on to say that medical expenses have been a heavy burden on many refugees, and these medical outreaches brought hope to them. On the day of each mobile clinic, refugees would be queuing up before dawn, and some even walked for two to three hours to the venue to seek medical treatments.

In order to provide as much medical help as possible to these refugees, volunteers have been mindful in the planning. They would spend the eve of the medical outreach cleaning up the space, setting up cubicles, moving in truckloads of furniture and boxes of medicine to the venue. Knowing that majority of the patients came without food, they prepared bread and drinks, and set up a waiting area with chairs for them to sit.

With the increasing demands for medical attention, Tzu Chi KL & Selangor then decided to set up a free clinic to serve the care recipients and needy groups in society. Once again, Mun Keat was entrusted with the challenging task of looking for a place for that purpose.

It took Mun Keat quite a while to look for a cost effective and accessible location. With the help of his friend, Mun Keat was introduced to a building near Jalan Imbi wet market, which he found suitable for the set-up of a free clinic.

He related, “The entrance of the building had only staircases, which was not accessible by physically-challenged patients. When the property owner learnt that we wanted to set up a free clinic there, he agreed to build ramps near the entrance to provide more accessibility, especially for the wheelchair-bound patients.”

Tzu-Chi Free Clinic (KL) was in operation in December 2007. Located in the town centre, it is easily accessible. Later, as the patient load of the monthly mobile clinic for refugees at Jalan Imbi was on the increase, and with cases of hypertensive and diabetic patients requiring long-term monitoring, the Free Clinic was open to cater to refugees. In 2010, the mobile clinic at Jalan Imbi ceased its operation, whereas the monthly mobile clinic in Selayang is still being carried out until today.

Mun Keat’s 10-minute sharing on the arduous undertakings had touched many in the audience, including an experienced volunteer, Chee Heng Lee. He was startled by the history of the establishment of the Free Clinic.

Doctors touched by sincerity

Recalling his involvement at the mobile clinic at the detention centre in Lenggeng, Heng Lee mentioned that initially, it was beyond his comprehension that the volunteers could travel for 1.5 hours before daybreak to the detention centre, to provide medical service to patients who were total strangers to them. After some time, he realized that organizing and getting medical professionals to participate in such a regular medical outreach was a real challenge.

Gratefully, Heng Lee praised the great efforts of volunteers, including Ng Sue Chin and Nai Keng Hak, who had untiringly invited medical professionals to volunteer for these medical outreaches. He was told that Sue Chin made hundreds of phone calls to dentists and doctors to invite them to join the medical outreaches. She even visited clinics in Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), and waited to see the doctors to introduce Tzu Chi to them after their clinic hours, hoping that they could volunteer their services at the medical outreaches. Although she was turned down on many occasions, she still visited the clinics persistently, for she knew that it was impossible to run a free clinic without doctors. Occasionally, she would bring some refreshments for the doctors and nurses. After some time, her sincerity touched the hearts of the doctors and nurses, and they started getting involved in the medical outreaches.

Her determination and selfless spirit deeply moved Heng Lee, who had been volunteering in the medical outreaches but had not fully committed himself. He felt that he could do more for the team by helping to invite more medical professionals to join the medical outreaches. It was only after he approached the medical professionals that he realized how difficult the task was. Nonetheless, he was glad that the doctors who came to serve at the medical outreaches found joy in giving, and some of them even invited their family members to help out. The sincerity and determination of the team have seen the medical team growing in numbers.

Heng Lee was grateful to the medical team, who had been there to care for the patients. He shared, “Medical professionals are very important for free clinics. Without them, we would not be able to treat the patients.”

Happy memories

Besides medical professionals, the team of medical volunteers also plays an important supporting role. Matthew Lim had been a medical volunteer for ten years. Due to his long service as a dental assistant, he had been mistaken for a dentist at times.

He showed some photographs while sharing his experiences in the past. The most memorable episode for him was during a medical outreach on Batam Island in 2006. It was a 3-day medical outreach, with 30-plus dentists serving over 1,000 patients.

On one of the days, when the dentists were done with their service and were busily cleaning and packing up the dental equipment, a resident walked up and requested for tooth extraction and filling services. Jokingly, a dentist said, “If you buy me a pack of coconut water, I will extract your tooth,” and the patient happily agreed. At the end of the dental treatment, Matthew clarified by saying, “The dentist was joking with you, please don’t take it seriously.”

Unexpectedly, the patient really brought some coconut water for the dental team. Mathew was touched by the gesture. “It was the sweetest coconut water I had ever tasted in my life,” he said. Although the medical team does not expect anything in return for their services, the sincere gestures from the patients often warmed their hearts.

Despite the lapse of a decade, Matthew continues to serve at the dental clinic. His concern for the dental service was the lack of experienced assistant to assist the dentists during the course of duty. He accounted a comment from a dentist about not having experienced volunteers during the clinic hours. His reply, “I have been here for a long while,” brought a smile on the dentist’s face. It also made him realize that the help from experienced volunteers could reduce the loads on the dentists.

In order to have a sustainable free clinic, nurturing medical volunteers is of utmost importance to complement the provision of medical care by medical professionals.

Story of a homeless

Juan Pui Fung joined as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) assistant when she first started her voluntary service at the Free Clinic. She later moved on to become a member of the Caring Team. To her, the Free Clinic is like her second home.

It was a challenging responsibility for her as a caring team volunteer, where her proactive communication is required to strike up a conversation and find out the emotional needs of patients. One day, a Chinese man came for dressing of his wound. Sensing his intense worries, Pui Fung spoke to him and was told that he was homeless and the street had been his home.

He told Pui Fung that he lost his hand phone and cash while sleeping on the street. As he was penniless, he had to come to the Free Clinic to get treatment for his wound. Pui Fung felt sorry for him when she saw his aged face and learnt of his predicaments.

Recalling that incident, she said, “I knew he was penniless, and should have no money to buy himself food. And it was lunch time. Hence, another volunteer and I decided to give the lunch packed for us to him.” She could remember the moment when the patient had the lunch boxes in his hands; his eyes were glazed with tears, and with a choked voice, he thanked them profusely.

An act of kindness had brought about a warm feeling for others; the touching moment is deep seeded in Pui Fung’s memory. At that time, Pui Fung, who worked for an insurance agency, was faced with pressure from work and other dealings. The endurance of this patient had also taught her to face life’s challenges bravely. She decided then that for as long as there is a need for her service, she would not leave her role. She also hoped that there will be more volunteers joining them at the Free Clinic, to bring love to the many patients.

The best remedy in this world is the selfless love. The sharing by volunteers had touched Tan Keng Heng’s heart. She was grateful to the medical volunteers for the assistance rendered, for that had enabled her to focus in her dentist roles. She was also grateful to have worked in a cohesive team with these volunteers to care for the needy together. She looked forward to spend more time volunteering her service at the Free Clinic.

A decade since the opening of the Free Clinic and the monthly mobile clinic in Selayang, there were many touching stories and challenging moments. Out of love for the patients, the medical team has been serving perseveringly. In gratitude to the medical professionals and volunteers who had been volunteering their service for a long ten years, Dr Eddie Chan presented to each of them a token of appreciation. He hoped that the selfless love will go on and never ceases.


Lee Mun Keat (2nd right), Chee Heng Lee (2nd left) and Matthew Lim (1st left) shared their journeys in the medical missions in the past ten years. [Photograph by Chan Boon Huat]   Matthew Lim (left), a dental assistant, shared the interesting happenings during the medical missions. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]

Lee Mun Keat (2nd right), Chee Heng Lee (2nd left) and Matthew Lim (1st left) shared their journeys in the medical missions in the past ten years. [Photograph by Chan Boon Huat]
Matthew Lim (left), a dental assistant, shared the interesting happenings during the medical missions. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]
Juan Pui Fung was grateful to be inspired by a homeless patient to face life’s challenges bravely. [Photograph by Chan Boon Huat]   Dr Eddie Chan (left), Coordinator of TIMA KL & Selangor, presented a token of appreciation to each volunteer who had served in the medical missions for ten years. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]

Juan Pui Fung was grateful to be inspired by a homeless patient to face life’s challenges bravely. [Photograph by Chan Boon Huat]
Dr Eddie Chan (left), Coordinator of TIMA KL & Selangor, presented a token of appreciation to each volunteer who had served in the medical missions for ten years. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]
A group photo of the medical team taken during the get-together. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]  

A group photo of the medical team taken during the get-together. [Photograph by Foo Hor Soon]