Award winner dedicates life to welfare of special needs children

MEET Dr Toh Teck Hock, the recipient of the 2010 Outstanding Young Malaysian Award in the category Contribution to Children, World Peace and Human Rights.

Toh is the second person from Sibu who bagged the award from the Junior Chamber International Malaysia. The first was former journalist Eddy Puah in 1995 in the Contribution to Politics category.

A general paediatrician by profession with the Sibu Hospital, Dr Toh collected the award from former Human Resources Minister Tan Sri Dr Fong Chang Onn on Dec 3 last year at the Sunway Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Winning the award has put Dr Toh among the elite, alongside squash world number one Datuk Nicol David (2008) and badminton world number one Datuk Lee Chong Wei (2002).

When news reached him that he and Life Link Community Care head Joshua Ng of Johor Baru were joint winners of the award, the feeling of joy, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment overwhelmed him.

The latter was recognised for his effort in setting up a home for neglected children.

Dr Toh flew to Kuala Lumpur with his wife Wong Hau Mee, a social worker, to receive the award.

“I share this award with all those who have worked with me in caring for disadvantaged children at the Agape Centre. People like Datin Janet Lau, the chairperson of the Children With Special Needs; Jason Tai, chairman of the Special Olympics Sarawak, Sibu Chapter, and many others whom I cannot all name.

“Sibu has a lot of support from the community and the corporate sector in caring for the children. It is not a one-person effort. It involves a lot of people,” he said.

Since he began looking after the health of children in 2004, Toh has been dubbed “doctor of the disabled” by many.

The work is an arduous one as it needs great patience, love and care. It requires the carer to treat the children as his or her own.

Dr Toh holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the University of Melbourne, Victoria in Australia.

As a boy scout during his high-school days, Toh was exposed to the philosophy that helping others should be a prime purpose in life.

As a result, he chose to become a doctor and eventually a paediatrician, a specialist in childhood illnesses, so he could help children.

Caring for children who have disabilities require professionals from various fields as well as policymakers, parents and the media.

There is a shortage of such doctors in the state, compounded by the negative and passive public perception of children with disabilities.

Dr Toh and his colleagues established the Agape Centre in 2006 as a one-stop community-based provider of medical, rehabilitative, educational, sporting, social, and vocational services and training for nearly 3,000 children and youths with special needs. Some 500 of them use these services weekly.

At the centre’s Lau King Howe Memorial Children Clinic, children with developmental, learning and behavioural problems are taken to see him for consultation, counselling and treatment of their illnesses.

Dr Toh, who is now the director of the Special Olympics Malaysia, also works closely with the Education Department to offer more special education, which includes starting new classes at the primary school level.

As a result, more parents are now willing to bring their children to receive educational and interventional services.

Dr Toh is a member of various international organisations, including the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, United Kingdom; the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia, Chapter of Community Child Health, Paediatrics & Child Health Division, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australia; and Advisory Panel, Drug Control Authority in the Health Ministry.

His other administrative appointments in the Health Ministry include National Assessor, Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative; secretary, Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Team, Sibu; director, Clinical Research Centre, Sibu Hospital.

As a volunteer, he is the clinical director of Healthy Athletes Programme; Special Olympics Sarawak cum Asia Pacific Regional HAP trainer in health promotion, and national clinical director, Special Olympics Malaysia; and secretary of the Association for Children with Special Needs, Sibu; pro tem committee member of National Early Childhood Intervention Council and, medical advisor and meets doctor for the Sibu Amateur Swimming Association.

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