This was my third medical mission trip with Tzu Chi, and it was the second time I visited Sri Lanka. Two years ago, we were unable to fulfil the mission in its entirety due to local administrative issues. Although I was disappointed at that time, having made preparations and taking the time to travel all the way to Colombo (commercial capital of Sri Lanka), I was extremely impressed by the quality of healthcare set-up Tzu chi was able to achieve. I felt bad for the volunteers who touched down a few days earlier to clean up the hospital and to work to provide a clean, organized, and efficient set up for the medical and dental teams. (Their selfless dedication touched me deeply.) This is one of the strongest reasons why I keep coming back to offer my help alongside Tzu Chi volunteers.
I was blessed to return to Sri Lanka (in May, 2015) to go back to what we have started. The trip was well organised under the leadership of veteran dentist Dr. Eugene Tang, as well as the immense contribution from Dr. Tan T.W., Dr. Ong, and Jennifer Ee (a dental assistant who is also a Tzu Chi commissioner). Everyone in the dental team is clinically experienced, efficient, and most importantly, generous in giving back to the community. In a large scale operation like this, everyone had a specific role to play, and all of us performed our duties with utmost diligence and enthusiasm.
We also had a chance to interact with other members of the medical team and made some friends along the way. I also saw many familiar faces this time around.
We were fortunate to receive strong support from the local volunteers. We had a wonderful team of volunteers who served as interpreters for us as most of the locals could speak only Sinhala. One of the volunteers I had met shared her story with me ─ Zeena was a survivor of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. She woke up in the aftermath at a hospital, only to discover that she had lost her husband, two sons, and property in the disaster. Eleven years have passed since the disaster struck. She spoke sadly of returning home every day to an empty house, a shadow of her once complete household. But she has been keeping herself busy and living a meaningful life by actively volunteering in charitable missions such as this. I could not begin to imagine the horror she had been through. Her bravery and community spirit is something I respect profoundly.
Another interpreter, Dilini, gave me a little gift at the end of the mission. It was a lime from a lime tree her mother grew in their garden. The locals were so grateful to Tzu Chi for helping them, they were very willing to share whatever little they have.
Last of all, I must say I only have praises for the way the mission trip was planned and carried out. As a dentist, I had all the equipment I needed to perform my job well. Moreover, I did not have to worry about anything else beyond my scope, such as sterilization, triage, and communication. This had allowed me to concentrate on my job.
Thank you, Tzu Chi, and gan en (感恩)！
(The author is a professional dentist who had participated in the TIMA Singapore medical outreach held at Hambantota, Sri Lanka, from 29 to 31 May, 2015. She wrote the following short article to share her thoughts and experiences of the trip.)