IT was a mission of mercy. University College Sedaya International (UCSI) again proved its commitment to helping the less fortunate when it sent a team of relief workers to Banda Aceh on a seven-day humanitarian mission.
The team – comprising UCSI’s Research and External Relations vice-president Prof Dr Norfadzillah Hitam, in-house doctor Dr Molly John, Corporate and Legal Advisor’s senior director Abu Bakar Jalaluddin and associate Dr Mohd Ramzan Abdul Gafoor – found their experience at Banda Aceh an emotionally fulfilling experience although they encountered some hiccups coming home.
The team had originally planned to return to Kuala Lumpur aboard the Tentera Udara DiRaja Malaysia (TUDM) C103 “Charlie” aircraft but had to change plans when direct flights from TUDM Subang to Banda Aceh were put on hold until early March.
Help came when the National Security Council arranged for their flight aboard another Charlie bound for Medan.
They had hoped to buy tickets home aboard a commercial aircraft but ran out of cash, having donated most of it to the tsunami victims.
However, thanks to the goodwill of friends who rallied to their assistance, the team managed to fly back into Kuala Lumpur on Feb 22.
The team members related heart-breaking accounts of their week-long mission in Aceh.
Housed in the quarters of Malaysian Armed Forces Relief Mission Commander brigadier-general Shahruddin Abdullah, within the grounds of the Tentera Nasional Indonesia Beruang Hitam Camp about 30 minutes’ drive from Banda Aceh, the team taught and provided medical assistance as well as psychological and emotional support to the victims of the disaster-struck region.
For Prof Norfadzillah, teaching English to 17-year old students seated cross-legged on canvas mats under army tents that served as make-shift schools was a way of connecting and reaching out to the students. Little things like making them sing their national anthem at the end of classes brought emotional relief besides giving them back some semblance of normalcy in life.
Much also needed to be done at the Malaysian Armed Forces Field Hospital at Gue Gajah. Mobile containers were transformed into an operation theatre, a dental clinic, an X-ray lab as well as wards for male and female patients.
UCSI’s doctors at the hospital treated outpatients by the hundreds daily.
Dr John said: “We treated an average of 200 patients a day, usually for respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, bronchitis, asthma, coughs and colds and skin diseases. Our hearts really went out to them.”
Prof Norfadzillah even had to act as a peace mediator to avert a fight at the hospital as a jostling crowd pushed and tried to jump queue to get treatment.
What was heart-warming was the high regard the Acehnese had for the armed forces personnel.
“Whenever we passed by, they would call out to us, waving and smiling,” said Abu Bakar.
“The people of Aceh are very resilient. They accepted their fate courageously without bitterness or rancour. We encourage more volunteers to go to Aceh to assist because the situation is bad and the people there need help,” he added.