KUALA LUMPUR: You may have heard of Dr S. Madhusudhan from the Teddy Mobile Clinic and his work with the homeless community in Kuala Lumpur. Nicknamed the Teddy Bear doctor because of his tendency to give street children a soft toy after a visit, he was one of the 10 recipients of the Star Golden Hearts award last year.
But Dr Madhusudhan is not the only star here. Meet Alfred Mariyaras and Shalini Yeap who helped to put the wheels in motion and get the mobile clinic off the ground.
As a credit card fraud detector with a Singapore bank, Alfred has his job cut out for him. But the Klang native can still take a seven-hour bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur every weekend for community work.
The bachelor says he had an epiphany while hanging out with friends in a cafe three years ago. Although he was earning well, he wondered whether he should just live for himself or find a more meaningful existence.
Writer Shalini Yeap readily admits she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But the support and love of a close-knit family while growing up in Butterworth, Penang, impressed on her that there are others who may not be as lucky.
“It is not easy for me to walk away from someone when I know they need help,” says Shalini.
From a street clinic that began with only one doctor (Dr Madhusudan) and two tables, the movement now has 50 non-medical volunteers and eight doctors diagnosing and prescribing medicines for coughs, colds and minor wounds. The team also treats cases which they term “manjaitis” where patients are actually well but have come to the clinic because they just want someone to talk to.
Shalini says one of the worst cases she has seen is a victim of domestic violence whose face was so swollen, she could barely open an eye and her body was covered with bruises.
Getting the mobile clinic running was a smooth process, says Shalini. The biggest challenge was roping in the doctors due to their busy schedules. But in terms of sponsorship, there were always people who were willing to help.
To date, says Alfred, he has collected close to RM100,000 from benefactors. All their contributions are posted on the movement’s Facebook page.
The duo tackled the niggling issue of how to start and what to do by using social media. One of the movement’s sister organisations, Volunteers Unite, has some 5,700 members on its Facebook page.
“In the current world of social media, there is a lot of talk but few take action to make things better. With these pages, people can give ideas and we can get our project leaders to work on them after we’ve assessed the situation,” says Alfred, who got the idea of offering medical treatment to the homeless while volunteering with a soup kitchen.
But despite their extensive work with the homeless and very poor, Shalini and Alfred are quick to assert that they are not here to encourage a lackadaisical culture. The street clinic is a tool to reach out to the homeless and to convince them to rejoin society.
“If I can get just one out of 10 cases to leave the street, I’ll consider myself a success. In reality, there is no set method when it comes to dealing with this issue.
“There are some who may have ended up on the street due to drugs and alcohol addiction. There are also those who have become comfortable with this way of life,” says Alfred, who refers to his cases as clients.
Harsh as it may sound, Alfred has learned to focus on genuine cases and only after due investigations. His connections have included bus conductors who have been instructed to tell him if a client does not board the bus for home after asking for transport fare to reunite with their families.
For this reason, he insists that getting people off the street within the first two weeks is the most effective way of reducing the problem of homelessness. Once they find their “comfort zone”, rehabilitation into society becomes harder, he says.
This explains their plan to expand the mobile clinic’s reach to urban poor families in the Klang Valley. One of the persons Shalini has recently visited is a mother-of-four in Gombak who is recovering from cancer.
Her youngest child is only nine. The eldest has left school but is unable to secure a steady job because he has to look after his siblings and mother. The husband works as a security guard in a secondary school.
When there are so many outstretched hands, how does one decide whom to help?
It is a question Alfred and Shalini do not have a ready answer to. But they insist that as long as it involves the marginalised, it will have their attention.
This year’s Star Golden Hearts Award is supported by Gamuda. For more articles, go to thestar.com.my/stargoldenheartsaward.