KUALA LUMPUR: Omer Shah Agha first celebrated Malaysia’s National Day three years ago, long before he actually set foot here last week.
The Afghan national has developed a special bond with Malaysia since he started working under Malaysian Medical Relief Society’s (Mercy Malaysia) mission in Kandahar in 2001.
Over the years, the mission’s projects in post-war Afghanistan – including the setting up of a women and children's hospital and a primary school for orphans – has touched Omer’s life and those of many of his countrymen.
And since 2001, he has helped organise a little party on Aug 31 each year for Malaysian volunteers serving there as a gesture of thanks and celebrated the day as if he was a Malaysian, too.
“I hope to keep up this tradition of celebrating the Malaysian National Day even when Mercy officials are not around,” said the programme manager and local administrator for Mercy Malaysia-sponsored projects in Afghanistan.
Omer is in Malaysia for a two-week course on how to manage a non-governmental organisation, which is part of Mercy Malaysia’s effort to train and empower locals to take over relief work in countries where it has set up missions.
In the past few years, Omer – an operating theatre assistant before joining Mercy Malaysia – has worked with many visiting Malaysian doctors.
He remembered how Malaysian female doctors were very much sought after by the locals but the language barrier would pose a problem at times.
“Women with gynaecological problems are always eager to see a female doctor but there are very few female Afghan doctors.
“When the Malaysian female doctors came, they did not speak the local language and I acted as a translator.
“However, telling a male of such illnesses is a taboo and the patients would complain of back aches, stomach aches or anything else but the real problem,” said the 28-year-old in a recent interview at the Mercy Malaysia headquarters here.
Omer added that other important Mercy Malaysia’s projects in Afghanistan included distributing food supply to the needy and providing vocational training for widows and single mothers.
“I hope we can come up with more projects. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing an improvement in the lives of my people back home,” he said.
Omer’s family fled to Pakistan when he was a toddler as his father, a former district police chief, feared retribution when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.
He first returned to his homeland at the age of 19 for a 10-day trip in the mid-1990s, a time when internal tribal fights were brewing, and realised how easily lives could be lost.
Later, he went back during the Taliban rule as part of a medical mission from Pakistan.
Under the Taliban, he said, security was better but people lived under suppression and fear, with public executions held by the regime as a way to deter crime.
Omer said he would like to see his countrymen enjoy one day the sort of peace and development found in Malaysia.