Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Dr Rebecca George paints on porcelain to help kids with cancer

A doctor who spent most of her life caring for children is now reaching out to them in a different way.

Big blue roses trail down the side of a jug, a cluster of grapes sits pretty on a plate, and across the room, a fish leaps into the air. These are among the porcelain pieces painted by Puan Sri Datin Dr Rebecca George in the last 15 years. “I’ve liked painting ever since I was a little girl,” the youthful-looking 80-year-old says, sharing that she has tried her hand at many artistic pursuits, including Chinese ink painting, oil painting and painting on fabric that were then made into dresses.

I didn’t need any convincing of her love for art – her house looks like an art space, with a painting of white lotus blooms and green leaves set against a red wall, Egyptian figures marching down another, wooden sculptures in many a corner, and family photographs of three generations placed on a wall above a fish aquarium. Dr George describes porcelain painting as "practical and useful", as the porcelain pieces can be used. Little did she imagine that, 15 years after she began, she would use these porcelain works to help children with cancer.

“I started painting on porcelain as a hobby when I was still working at Universiti Malaya,” says the woman who has dedicated most of her life to working with children, as she knew very early on in her medical career that her passion was in paediatrics. “I find it very relaxing and it gives me peace of mind. You completely forget yourself when you are painting.”

The grandmother to three speaks fondly of the many happy hours she spent at her weekly porcelain painting class, under the supervision of porcelain painter and teacher Joy Looi who hails from Taiwan.

“I started with images of flowers we have in the garden, mainly because flowers are easier to paint than most other subjects, and also because my two daughters requested for them,” she recalls with a laugh. And before she knew it, people were clamouring for her to sell her pieces to them. She never agreed to selling any of her art pieces, because she felt she wasn’t producing them regularly enough.

“But I have given my porcelain art pieces to family and friends as gifts, and this is the first time I’m involved in a project like this,” she says.

The project Dr George is referring to is the Cards and Calendars in Aid of Children With Cancer. Combining her love for porcelain painting and children, the initiative seeks to raise funds from the sale of greeting cards and a 2015 calendar featuring images of some of her porcelain art. The works are photographed by renowned lensman SC Shekar.

Proceeds will go to two beneficiaries: The National Cancer Society Malaysia – The Children’s Home of Hope, and the Universiti Malaya Cancer Research Institute. This project was conceptualised by Dr Rebecca’s son, Chacko Vadaketh (the medico-legal lawyer turned creative arts consultant, actor, voice-over artist, trainer and producer divides his time between Malaysia and Los Angeles) who wanted to do something special for her 80th birthday.

“Rather than just have a party and dinner and festivities, I was hoping to give back and knew she and my father would like that too,” he says.

These are some of the images of Dr George’s works photographed by renowned lensman SC Shekar.

So after a chat with Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarul Zaman, dean of the faculty of medicine at UM, and Prof Dr Hany Ariffin, head of the UM Cancer Research Institute, the ball was set rolling. (Dr Adeeba has worked with Dr George in the past, and Dr George has taught Dr Hany.)

“We decided on supporting research into childhood cancer. I have worked as a volunteer MC with the National Cancer Society Malaysia and they have a Children’s Home of Hope,” explains Chako. “They loved the art and agreed to manage the project,” he adds, saying that the president, Dr Saunthari Somasundaram, is a close family friend, as is the vice president, Clare Ratnasingham, who heads this project.

The Inner Wheel Club of Petaling Jaya (part of the Rotary Club associations) came on board to market the project and raise funds; graphic designer John Zachariah of JZac Creative Works offered his services; Percetakan Wan Yee Sdn Bhd printed the cards and calendars at discounted prices; and Hong Leong Bank Bhd sponsored the printing of 10,000 cards to be sold to individuals.

“Through these friendships and work relationships the project fell into place,” Chacko says, expressing gratitude to Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak who has agreed to launch the project. He was delighted to support children with cancer and also to commemorate my mother’s birthday, as he has known her for many years. Very gracious and thoughtful of His Royal Highness, as it is a difficult time for him and his family,” he says, referencing the passing of the late Sultan Azlan Shah in May.

“Sultan Nazrin Shah is pro-chancellor of Universiti Malaya, his late father was the patron of the NCSM, my father was in the judiciary with him – so many ties to this project for Tuanku,” he adds.

Originally from India, Dr George married in 1962 (her husband is Tan Sri Datuk VC George, former Court of Appeal judge) and moved to Malaysia shortly after. The second Malaysian woman to obtain the MRCP specialist qualification, member of the Royal College of Physicians (UK), she was attached to the General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (now Hospital Kuala Lumpur) from 1970 to 1989. Thereafter, she joined the Department of Paediatrics at Universiti Malaya where she remained until her retirement in 2000.

In the early 1970s, Dr Rebecca was one of the pioneers in the study of dengue virus infection. It was relatively unknown till we faced the first major epidemic of this disease.

“Back then, dengue virus mainly affected children and there were many such cases in the paediatrics department in HKL. The description of these early cases of dengue virus infection, the clinical signs and management, all these were done by me. We had an epidemic here in 1973, and my paper on dengue haemorrhagic fever cases in the paediatrics unit of HKL was published the following year,” she recalls.

Aside from viral diseases in children, with a special focus in dengue virus infection, her other areas of interest include nutritional problems in children, child abuse, hereditary diseases and clinical genetics.

“It is really rewarding to work with children, there is such a sense of achievement when the children you treat recover from whatever they were suffering from,” says Dr George. “I’ve always worked in government hospitals and never thought about going into private practice because I want to medical care for the poorer children. It’s also a good place to do research. Children are indeed our future,” she adds.

Dr George might have retired more than a decade ago from the medical world that she has known for most of her life but from her home – and the occasional help from a wheelchair to get around now – she is still touching the lives of children when they need it most.

> Proceeds from the Cards and Calendars in Aid of Children With Cancer will be channelled to the National Cancer Society Malaysia – Children’s Home of Hope and the Universiti Malaya Cancer Research Institute for research into childhood cancers. A set of 10 cards is priced at a minimum donation of RM25; calendars are RM25 each. Bulk orders get discounts and can be personalised with company logos and personal greetings. Donations and payments for these cards and calendars of RM50 and above are tax-exempt. For more information, contact Sangeetha at the National Cancer Society Malaysia at 03-2698 7300 (Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 4.30pm) or e-mail Orders can be made at

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , cards and calander in aid of children with cancer , porcelain , dr rebecca george , chacko vadaketh


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