“Just do it,” declared Mohamed Noor Suleiman, unequivocal in his advice to anyone considering joining Mercy Malaysia. He should know the rewards. After all, he has spent five years with the non-profit organisation, which focuses on providing medical relief, sustainable development and risk education activities for vulnerable communities in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
According to him, being with Mercy has taught him the priceless lesson of being humble and appreciating the value of life. And in the course of his work, he has saved many, but sadly, he has also witnessed numerous deaths. They are always the lowest points in this line of work, but the disappointments merely spur the successes.
Suleiman, who works in the safety and security industry, got into Mercy when he began feeling the need to do more for the human race. “I wanted to contribute on a larger scale and in a more effective way,” he revealed during the recent announcement of Mercy’s fund-raising charity run, International Humanitarian Run, themed “Run Like A Superhero”.
The 55-year-old, a core volunteer and co-representative for the state of Johor, serves the Safety, Security & Logistics department. The work the department does involves medical and non-medical assistance.
“Logistics forms the backbone of Mercy. It plays a key role in making sure the mission is ready, and we have to come up with the fastest and best way to pull it off,” he said. A key component of the job scope includes taking care of the well-being of the volunteers and assets, which includes medical supplies, medicine, tents and more.
Although Suleiman is not a paramedic, he is a certified EMR (emergency medical respondent), which means he has learned advanced first aid. “During emergencies, our job is to take care of the logistics, but when medical personnel are lacking, we are sometimes called upon to attend to the injured as well.”
His work has allowed the father-of-three to witness all manner of destruction and devastation, from the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan (2013) to the devastating earthquake in Nepal last year, but Kelantan’s floods (2014) were the most daunting he’s had to deal with.
“Seeing your own countrymen suffer is something else entirely. We had some relief workers who had served in Acheh after the tsunami who said the destruction in Kelantan looked similar,” he said, describing the magnitude of the devastation.
The condition of the natural surroundings wasn’t the worst of it all. Human suffering apart, Suleiman also found himself in the throes of human conflict, a natural occurrence during a crisis situation, when emotions run high and everyone is highly-strung.
While distributing supplies to a village (which included brooms and brushes for clean up work, and basic necessities like clothes and blankets), a resident from a neighbouring village came up to him demanding aid. Suddenly, parangs were drawn by the villager he was speaking to and the outsider. Instead of attempting to quell the situation, Suleiman made the wise choice of withdrawing in a bid to maintain neutrality. The situation was settled when calmer heads from both camps prevailed.
Witnessing the human suffering first-hand is not for the faint-hearted, and few can stomach dealing with such atrocities.
Suleiman relayed a heart-breaking story of when he was on Leyte Island in the Philippines, where he served his longest mission – a month.
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan’s havoc, he noticed a patient who was brought into the hospital, but was waiting in line for his turn to receive treatment. “When he was brought out, he was on a wheelchair covered in a white cloth. I thought he was injured and needed protection from the sun light, but I then found out that he had died,” he related solemnly.
The injured aren’t the only victims of a natural disaster – the aged, especially those with health conditions and require scheduled doses of medication, are just as susceptible. Heart and kidney patients, and high blood pressure sufferers, for example, all need to adhere to their medication timings, and when their supplies are lost in the carnage of a natural disaster, this puts them in the high risk group of casualties, too.
Relief workers are no less immune to the hazards of crisis situations. Many of them risk life and limb to save the next soul. Suleiman found himself in a dire situation when, while in Nepal, just after the first quake, he experienced the second, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.
“My head felt light, and I felt like I was spinning. I saw lamp and telephone poles swaying sideways and forwards and backwards, too ... it was a frightening experience. Before I knew it, a colleague literally shouted in my ear to run.”
And running for shelter in such situations is all about knowing where to go. Suleiman’s job scope also includes mapping out the safest route for relief workers to evacuate a crisis situation.
“We have an SOP for exit strategy. When we arrive at a crisis location, we assess the surroundings and map out he safest route out in case of emergency,” he explained, revealing that he gets the drivers of the mission vehicles to park in a way that provides resistant-free exit.
Likewise, relief workers are not exempt from emotional trauma either, which is why Mercy Malaysia also has psychosocial medical personnel on hand to provide counselling or to simply lend an ear for both relief workers and conflict victims.
Given the kind of physical and emotional trauma mission workers can be exposed to, Mercy’s volunteers are all required to attend Basic Mission Training (BMT). “We expose junior volunteers to worse-case-scenarios. In the course, we teach them to expect the unexpected, which we hope will get them to work as a team, and to be in sync with the seniors,” he said, outlining the nuts and bolts of BMT.
Challenges abound for volunteers, but ultimately, each of them is expected to adhere to Mercy’s mandate of dealing in a crisis situation. These challenges come in the form of transport, location and, of course, logistics. “Sometimes, it’s really difficult to execute our duties based on the mandate ... there are constraints from the law of the land, religious sensitivities ... all kinds of things,” he said.
As daunting as this all seems, Suleiman has drawn great satisfaction from doing what he does – serving the greater good. He gives credence to the old adage: heroes are made, not born.
The Mercy Malaysia International Humanitarian Run kicks off at 7am on May 1 at Padang Merbok, Kuala Lumpur. To register online, visit www.webprojx.com/mymercyrun or check out www.mercy.org.my for more info. For further details, call Mercy Malaysia (03-2142 2007).