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Monday October 28, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday October 28, 2013 MYT 8:47:37 AM
by sandra low
Get it right: Schoolchildren from a school in Kg Lohan, Sabah, are taught the proper way to brush their teeth.
A group of medical students from Universiti Malaya gets a glimpse of rural life in Kg Lohan in Ranau, Sabah.
NG Chong Jing was introduced to Bario rice, caught fish from a pond for his dinner for the first time, and helped his host to cook the meal.
Then he had dinner with his host’s family under dim lights – courtesy of a power blackout that commonly happens in a remote village in Sabah.
Ng, 21, was one of the 50 medical students from Universiti Malaya (UM) who was selected to participate in the university’s Baktisiswa Community Project at Kg Lohan in Ranau, Sabah, in July.
Ng described Kg Lohan, located in the hilly district of Ranau, as hot in the day but chilly at night, and there was only one main road in the village. He saw some houses built of bricks and some of wood, but all were equipped with electricity and water supply.
“It was a farewell dinner the family planned for me and some students whom they hosted. We had our dinner with dim torchlights and it was one of the most enjoyable and memorable nights at Kg Lohan,” recalled Ng, a third-year medical student.
“Through volunteering for this project, I got to see first-hand the quality of healthcare in a rural community. I stayed with a foster family. Despite our cultural differences, I became attached to En Aliyu and his family over a short period, and had a hard time saying goodbye!” said Ng, who hails from Penang.
“These people may not have the luxuries that city folks have, but they believe in instilling strong family ties and community bonding is important to them.
“There are certain medical aspects that we cannot understand unless we are in the shoes of the rural community. Through this programme, I saw the type of healthcare services provided to the rural community and what their lifestyle is like,” Ng explained.
When Ng was selected to join the coveted volunteer programme, he learnt that he had to raise money to fund the project.
“We raised funds through the sale of customised T-shirts and organised a car wash at a nearby residential area. We also held a charity concert at our university and had a donation drive,” he said.
Ng enjoyed organising both the car wash and charity concert as it required teamwork and it gave him the opportunity to get to know other volunteers better.
“I learnt that teamwork and detailed planning are crucial to a project’s success. Before making decisions, I learnt to weigh the pros and cons, and seek my team members’ opinions.”
Ng and fellow volunteers were expected to conduct health screenings for the villagers at Kg Lohan, and educate them on basic healthcare and hygiene.
Through sponsors like Watsons, all foster families who hosted the volunteers, were given samples of hand wash gels.
On the second day at Kg Lohan, Ng and fellow volunteers walked to SK Kg Lohan as early as seven in the morning to teach the schoolchildren proper hygiene, such as the correct way to brush their teeth and wash their hands.
On the third and fourth day, the volunteers were at the community hall to conduct health screenings, take blood pressure readings and check blood glucose levels. This was followed by counselling and healthcare advice.
“Our project advisor, Prof Jamiyah, provided free HPV vaccinations for the villagers and a team of doctors from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu provided vaginal examinations for women and prostate examinations for men,” said Ng.
“I didn’t have problems communicating with the villagers,” related Ng, who found that the villagers were friendly and receptive. They seem willing to make changes to unhealthy habits such as smoking and a high-fat diet.
Ng observed that villagers in rural areas were often neglected in terms of facilities and services. He felt that more healthcare services should be provided through the setting up of a healthcare clinic in the village or through monthly checkups provided by healthcare workers.
“Medical students like us can lend a helping hand by raising healthcare awareness among the villagers through projects like Baktisiswa,” he said. “Volunteering has given me an insight into what I can do to become a better physician.”
For fellow volunteer Suhanya Vinayagam, her trip to Kg Lohan proved to be an invaluable learning experience.
“I had expected to face some difficulties adapting to the rural setting, but the villagers made us feel at home. They were polite and respectful. It was a privilege to share healthcare information with the villagers, and raise awareness on the importance of taking care of their health,” said the 21-year-old third-year medical student.
During the fundraising exercise prior to the trip to Sabah, Suhanya learnt how tough it was to raise money, even for a good cause.
“The toughest was finding sponsors. We found about 130 potential sponsors but most of our calls fell on deaf ears!” Suhanya lamented.
“Even though it was tough, I enjoyed going from house to house doing charity work. This experience helped strengthen the relationship among fellow volunteers. We knew we were in this together, and had to support each other. We actually became like a close-knit family!”
The volunteers also visited a school in Kg Lohan where they organised a colouring session – thanks to sponsorship by Swan – for the schoolchildren.
One of Suhanya’s tasks was to conduct one-on-one interviews with the female villagers during the cervical cancer health screening.
“We helped them fill in a questionnaire before they entered the examination room, and I took this opportunity to learn how to approach sensitive questions in a polite manner, without embarrassing them,” Suhanya explained.
“Some of the women were very shy and wanted to change their mind about the health examination. I had to convince them to proceed with the examination as early detection was important.”
As for the male villagers who were being tested for prostate cancer, Suhanya related: “A man had to literally hold on to his friend tightly when they tried to draw his blood sample. It had everyone amused.
“It made me realise that a good doctor should not only be equipped with knowledge, but also soft skills that will help the patient feel comfortable and assured.
“This volunteering experience has changed me a lot. I have learnt to adapt to new surroundings and be more versatile,” added Suhanya.
Teaching humility in medical students
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, volunteers, Universiti Malaya, Baktisiswa, Ng Chong Jing, Suhanya Vinayagam, medical students, community project, Kg Lohan, Ranau, Sabah
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