13th July 2018 marked the first day of the three-day free clinic in Baduraliya, a town in the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka. Early in the morning on this day, the site of the free clinic was already crowded with long queues of locals awaiting treatment. G Wijeratne, a 83-year-old petite and frail-looking man held onto his crutch while waiting in a queue. He lives in a small village 8km away from the venue of the free clinic, and had got up in the wee hours of the morning at 3 am to travel to the clinic, in order to ensure that he could see a doctor to treat his poor eyesight.
Healthcare services available at the free clinic included sugery, internal medicine, dental care, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and optometry. The operation theatre was set up in a newly constructed building at the Baduraliya Divisional Hospital. A team of volunteers had arrived onsite to disinfect the venue one day prior to the commencement of the free clinic.
There were five surgical beds in the operating theatre, with six surgeons taking turns to perform surgery on patients. TCM and Internal Medicine services were provided in another two-storey building adjacent to the hospital, with 10 TCM practitioners and 13 doctors on duty. In the male ward of the hospital, a team of 17 dentists served the incoming patients.
67-year-old S. Munipeme had been afflicted with a tumour on his back for the past 20 years. He had consulted a doctor before but was told by the latter that he needed not pay attention to the tumour as it was not harmful to his body. So he did not seek further treatment. When he saw a notice about the Tzu Chi free clinic a few days ago, he was confident that the overseas medical team could solve his problem, thus he came for the treatment. Thanks to TIMA, Munipeme finally bid goodbye to the 10 cm-wide tumour after undergoing an operation.
The opening ceremony of the free clinic was held on the following morning. Bante Dampada, a Dharma master from a nearby temple, led everyone to pray for blessings for the free clinic. After the prayers, the Dharma Master encouraged the residents to take good care of their health and also expressed his thanks to all the healthcare professionals and volunteers from overseas.
The invited guests of the day included Dr Udaya Isaac Rathnayake, the regional director of health services at Kalutara, Brigadier Dr Malshantha Muthumalla, a facial neurologist from a local military hospital, and Dr Isuru Nayanapriya, the head and resident doctor of Baduraliya Divisional Hospital. In their speech, the few VIPs unanimously expressed their heartfelt gratitude to Tzu Chi, TIMA doctors and volunteers.
Spreading love in Baduraliya
Despite the hot and humid weather, local residents who had come to seek medical care waited patiently under a tent shelter set up by volunteers. As the patients waited for their turn, volunteers brought cheer to them with some lively and upbeat Tzu Chi sign language songs.
Volunteers also introduced the origin and spirit of Tzu Chi and the Bamboo Coin Bank to the residents at the waiting area. A lot of residents were touched by the sharing and many responded enthusiastically by dropping their spare change into a coin bank to donate to Tzu Chi for helping others in need. Among them was 80-year-old Marathelis, who had collected his medicine on the first day of the free clinic and returned on the second day for an eye examination. He did not hesitate to put 100 rupees (est. SGD 0.85) into a Bamboo Coin Bank after listening to the sharing by volunteers. The volunteers were concerned that the generous donation might affect his finances, so they helped change his 100-rupee note into loose change so that he could just donate 50 rupees.
“I came on the first day of the free clinic after hearing about it, but I got a headache after waiting amid the massive crowd. So I went home to take a rest. I came back today again to see a doctor and was given some medicine to soothe my leg pain. Everyone here cares for me like my own mother. They served me water and did not charge me any money, so I’ve specially come here today to thank everyone,” said 76-year-old Karuna Vijeysinghe, who also made a donation via the Bamboo Coin Bank. She even requested the emcee to allow her to express her gratitude to Tzu Chi and blessings for everyone on the microphone.
Medical relief with a human touch
58-year-old diabetic Manel lives in Midalana, a village that is situated 2km away from the free clinic. She comes from a poor family and heard about the free clinic two days ago. On this day, she specially spent 150 rupees on a ride to the clinic to see a dentist, as she had had been suffering from swollen gums for the past five years. TIMA dentist Xu Zhi Liang examined her gums and discovered mutated cells in them, so she was later referred to a large hospital. Although the dentist was unable to treat her, he offered to clean her teeth to clear her mouth of bacteria. At first, Manel was reluctant to accept the offer due to her fear of pain, but was talked round by some local volunteers. Her anxiety was assuaged by the volunteers’ comforting words and encouragement.
It was a rare sight to see a pair of father and daughter and another two pairs of mothers and daughters in the dental team of this medical aid mission. Among them were Dr Loh Poey Ling and her daughter, Lieu Yen Tung, a dentistry student, who were both first-time participants. Dr Loh who is actively involved in volunteer work in Singapore, said that this free clinic experience allowed her daughter to understand her better. Young and energetic Yen Tung taught the local children how to brush their teeth to prevent tooth decay. The local residents were also delighted to receive practical gifts, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Dr Isuru remarked that the arrival of Tzu Chi’s medical team was able to make up for the shortage of medical services, as optical services are currently not available in the Baduraliya Divisional Hospital. Besides providing eye tests on site, presbyopic glasses were also distributed to those who need them.
The 3-day free clinic ended on a successful note on 15th July 2018. A total of 158 medical professionals and volunteers from Singapore and Taiwan volunteered in this medical aid mission in Sri Lanka, benefiting 4,103 locals.
Dr Rathnayake said, “No words can fully express my gratitude towards all of you. Today, I witnessed the selfless contributions from you all to help the impoverished people in Baduraliya. I have learned a lot from all of you, and gained a better understanding of Buddhism and Tzu Chi’s spirit. I hereby pledge to become a vegetarian from now on!”
*Note: In the spirit of “Great Love Without Borders”, the volunteer team from Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore) utilised their personal leave from work and participated in this humanitarian mission at their own expense.