To Give, To Serve, and To Love

Malaysian Medical Fellowship and Barefoot Mercy join hands on a humanitarian mission into Lubok Antu to bring much-needed medical and infrastructural support.

By Margaret Apau

GIVE. SERVE. LOVE: Established in 2007, MMF sends mobile medical clinics around the world bringing much needed basic health screenings, social work and community development.

GIVE. SERVE. LOVE: Established in 2007, MMF sends mobile medical clinics around the world bringing much needed basic health screenings, social work and community development.

“This shouldn’t happen in Malaysia,” was an oft-repeated phrase during the Malaysian Medical Fellowship’s trip up Ulu Engkari delivering basic health screenings.

Out of the 50 or so patients at Rumah Nanga Talong waiting to undergo medical checkups, three women had sizeable goiters at the base of their throats, a swelling of the thyroid glands largely due to iodine deficiency but could have been prevented by something as simple as a diet with iodised salt.

When asked, they said they were in no pain, and actually just wanted to receive basic health checkups: blood sugar, blood pressure checks and weight assessments. One of them has had the goiter over the last twenty years. Although they were in no pain, the presence of a third-world problem in Malaysia had somewhat irked the team of the MMF mobile medical clinic.

LOOKS GOOD: At Rh Nanga Tutong, Dr Dalvinder in the middle of a patient’s health screening.

LOOKS GOOD: At Rh Nanga Tutong, Dr Dalvinder in the middle of a patient’s health screening.

Established in 2007, first as Malaysian Fellowship (MF) and then Malaysian Medical Fellowship (MMF) in 2013 after being officially registered as a non-profit organization in Malaysia, their humanitarian work includes health care (mobile medical clinics, intestinal parasite treatment, health talks), social work (family welfare, community care) and community development (education, water and sanitation, public health).

In 2012 alone, MMF successfully organized and sent 41 teams on medical missions to 12 countries which included Nepal, Laos, the Philippines and even Russia, impacting as many as 28,000 people.

Headed by MMF Founder and President Dr Dalvinder Singh, the mobile medical clinic travelled together with Barefoot Mercy (BFM), a Sarawakian non-profit group dedicated to improving basic infrastructure for rural indigenous communities in Sarawak.

BFM’s mission to Rh Nanga Talong would see the completion of the 13 kw micro-hydro system the NGO had installed through a light up ceremony officiated by Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian accompanied by Krian assemblyman Ali Biju.

AN HONOUR: Baru signing a plaque prepared by BFM which reads ‘The Gift of Light: Brought into being by the gifts of friends and the labour of the community with support from Barefoot Mercy’ as (from right) Nicholas Bawin, Ali Biju and Baginda Minda look on.

AN HONOUR: Baru signing a plaque prepared by BFM which reads ‘The Gift of Light: Brought into being by the gifts of friends and the labour of the community with support from Barefoot Mercy’ as (from right) Nicholas Bawin, Ali Biju and Baginda Minda look on.

The request for a micro-hydro system at Rh Nanga Talong was first brought to them by Nicholas Bawin Anggat. Although Rh Nanga Talong is equipped with a diesel generator, the dwellers of the 25-door longhouse felt that micro-hydro system would lessen their dependence on diesel generators for the more sustainable – and free – power option.

SUSTAINABLE POWER: The 13kw alternator set installed by BFM to power the 25-door longhouse.

SUSTAINABLE POWER: The 13kw alternator set installed by BFM to power the 25-door longhouse.

Since it was dry season, the water levels were low, making upriver navigating difficult.  Predicting an arduous journey over rapids, the group had to stay over at Rh Nanga Tutong for the night, located at the Batang Ai Reservoir, where 25 eager longhouse dwellers were more than happy to have their basic checkups and teeth extracted.

Dentists, in particular, are a rare commodity in this region where there are no roads, and the wait at a government clinic can be long for something as simple as a dental check. The alternative is RM90 for a tooth extraction at a private clinic, a costly expense for the longhouse folk.

Besides the other members brought together by Dr Dalvinder, which included Dr Andrew Kok, Alex Koh, and Nah WeiRen who flew in from Kuala Lumpur specifically for this mission, Dr Usha Rani Roja from Lundu District Hospital also joined in this venture.

After MMF’s impromptu health check at Rh Nanga Tutong, a brief visit to top up their medical supplies at a clinic midway upriver revealed that the well-furnished clinic within easy reach of boarding houses and longhouses had no basic medical supplies, which is a typical scenario in the rural areas when the clinic is manned by a medical assistant.

Upon hearing that a group of doctors and a dentist were coming for the weekend, the residents of Rh Nanga Talong had called back their children from boarding schools to receive their basic checkup.

The patients waiting at Rh Nanga Talong were a mixture of those with long medical histories, those who did not do regular health checkups and even one who had never been to a doctor his whole life.

The demand for Dr Usha’s services continued to the evening, when a man and a woman from another longhouse arrived at the last minute, complaining of a sore tooth and a wobbly tooth and insisting on tooth extractions that she deemed unnecessary.

EASY DOES IT: Dr Usha works on extracting a tooth in dim lighting conditions.

EASY DOES IT: Dr Usha works on extracting a tooth in dim lighting conditions.

According to Dr Usha, rural folk don’t really ‘love their teeth’, and are more than prepared to discard a tooth than preserve it, most likely because access to dental care is so difficult. After some persuading on her part, they decided not to go ahead with their tooth extractions.

Besides donations of pre-loved clothing collected during BFM’s pre-loved clothes drive in March, the NGO also donated toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children of the longhouse, which gave MMF the chance to teach them how to brush their teeth the morning before they left the longhouse to head back to Kuching.

BFM’s ongoing micro-hydro systems projects for 2013 will include installations at Long Tanid and Pa Brunut, wrapping up their projects for this year.

To keep BFM’s efforts to provide much-needed infrastructure to the rural areas of Sarawak ongoing, the NGO has organised a charity dinner Sept 6 featuring MACC (Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians).

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