A helping hand from volunteer medics

PETALING JAYA: It was close to 10pm – way past the hour to break fast during Ramadan – when Dr Ahmad Yusuf Yahaya returned home from his journey to Hospital Sabak Bernam.

The chief coordinator of Imaret, the relief and outreach arm of the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia, had been there to deliver supplies to frontliners in the early weeks of the movement control order.

“It was a day trip but a long journey. When I was driving home, I realised that I forgot to buy food to break fast.

“During the MCO, all the restaurants were closed after 8pm.

“So I had to make do with just plain water until I reached home for my meal, ” he said.

Dr Ahmad Yusuf’s story was not uncommon among Imaret volunteers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Most of our volunteers shared the same experience.

“One of the biggest challenges during the MCO was to make sure that we didn’t get stuck in traffic when delivering our supplies.

“We had to bring our own food as most of the shops were closed.

“It was also hard for us to pray because all the surau and R&R (rest and relax) spots were closed.

“So we had to bring our own prayer mats and pray by the roadside, ” he said.

Despite such difficulties, Dr Ahmad Yusuf said their volunteers would continue to show up at the warehouse, asking: “Where are we going today?”

Going the distance: Imaret does its part in the fight against Covid-19 by distributing supplies to hospitals, led by its chief coordinator Dr Ahmad Yusuf Yahaya (left).Going the distance: Imaret does its part in the fight against Covid-19 by distributing supplies to hospitals, led by its chief coordinator Dr Ahmad Yusuf Yahaya (left).

Imaret is no stranger to disaster relief efforts since it started at the end of 2014.

A group of young doctors had seen how major floods in the east coast severely affected the lives of so many people, including their own colleagues.

“We started getting SOS calls from our friends.

“We were struck by the fact that these doctors had to continue serving people even though they were flood victims themselves, ” he said.

They then organised for a group of volunteers to send aid and help out with relief work there.

Over the course of time, Imaret upped the ante by offering a helping hand during local and regional disasters such as the Kinabalu earthquake in 2015, the refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh in 2016, the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami in 2018, and the Sungai Kim Kim river pollution in Johor Baru last year.

Following the pandemic, Imaret stepped up to help fight Covid-19.

They made a call to their members who were private healthcare professionals to volunteer at sites where mass Covid-19 screenings had to be carried out.

“With the coordination of the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre, we would send our volunteers to the country’s borders and entry points such as KLIA or KLIA2.

“We would also send them to areas under partial lockdown for a few weeks as a good number of healthcare personnel were needed, ” he said, adding that 142 volunteers have helped out to date.

Imaret also distributes supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) in partnership with local fashion designers to healthcare facilities.

“We had entrepreneurs like Vivy Yusof to promote our campaign to raise funds for equipment for frontliners.

“We also met with members of the Malaysian Official Designers’ Association like Melinda Looi, who volunteered to sew the PPE, which we distributed to the hospitals, ” he said.

Dr Ahmad Yusuf said they also sent out care packs called Pek Prihatin, containing food supplies and hygiene kits, to families during the crisis.

To date, the Pek Prihatin initiative has benefited over 4,000 families including many refugees and asylum-seekers.

“It’s all hands on deck for our teams and volunteers. Everything has been focused on Covid-19 since March.

“Everyone can do something and help in his or her own capacity, ” he said.

For their efforts, Imaret is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2020, an annual award that celebrates everyday unsung Malaysian heroes.

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