Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Aug 19th
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Home Our Missions Mission of Medicine A Flying Start for TIMA Sri Lanka

A Flying Start for TIMA Sri Lanka

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Last August, Tzu Chi held its first free clinic in Sri Lanka’s southwest Ratnapura district. After six months, a second free clinic lasting three days was held again at the same location. Besides the visiting Singapore and Malaysia personnel, 60 local medical staff also joined in to serve their countrymen.

It was the Asian Tsunami in 2004 that first brought Tzu Chi to Sri Lanka. Since then, the Foundation has built a school and a Great Love village in the devastated coastal town of Hambantota in southeastern Sri Lanka. Brother David Liu, who superintends Tzu Chi Singapore and Tzu Chi Malacca, was then assigned by Dharma Master Cheng Yen to oversee the undertakings of the Hambantota Tzu Chi office.

In August 2009, at the recommendation of Sri Lanka’s Office of the President, Tzu Chi Singapore planned and realized the first major free clinic in Ratnapura, Sabaragamuwa (a district 120km northwest of Hambantota) together with the local volunteers and supporters.

Sabaragamuwa’s Provincial Director of Health Services, Dr Kapila Kannangaraa, was one of the local medical personnel who assisted and took part in the free clinic. Dr Kapila and his colleagues, Dr Tissa Perera, Superintendent of Base Hospital-Kahawatta, and Dr Panditha, Senior Registrar of Community Medicine, attended the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Convention in Taiwan in October the same year and became the first few TIMA members of Sri Lanka. The trio later organized a tea session on 29 October 2009 to introduce to their colleagues about the association.

Thanks to the effort, at the second free clinic this March, 12 local doctors and 48 nurses were spotted among the Singapore and Malaysia medical team attending to the sick Sri Lankans.

The “catalyst”
Dr Kapila Kannangaraa’s chubby figure and forthright manner leaves a deep impression. The Provincial Director’s helpfulness and assistance during the preparation and execution of the first free clinic was also impressive.

According to Dr Kapila, TIMA has gained popularity among the local people since the first free clinic. Back before the primary service, his officers had spent three days putting up posters around the province; a mobile loudspeaker was also dispatched to propagate the service to the rural dwellers.

"This time, though we only put up a few banners, we already received public query two weeks ahead,” said Dr Kapila with a smile.
"We started off unknown to the public, and now we have local doctors and nurses volunteering with us at the free clinic. This is really encouraging. The only thing is the patient numbers is still on the high side,” said Dr Kapila, further adding his aspiration to enlist more local staff.

An unshirking duty
Dr Vipula Indralal, a surgeon with 12 years experience, was among Dr Kapila’s first recruits. He has been working hard in the operating room with his three colleagues for two days.

During his break, Dr Vipula, who has a strong interest about Tzu Chi, would take out his laptop and ask the Tzu Chi volunteers to show him to Tzu Chi’s website and the Da Ai TV (Tzu Chi’s satellite television) page.

Being a Buddhist himself, Dr Vipula is happy that he shares the same values as Tzu Chi: “As a doctor, we should help the needy people. The idea is to join in – [when] alone, [we] cannot do anything, [but] when we [join together to be] a team, we can do a lot. Here with Tzu Chi, I feel I can achieve my aspiration.”

The departments of General Medicine and Obstetrics & Gynaecology of Base Hospital-Kahawatta had been operating as usual during the three days of the free clinic. While busy attending to work, Superintendent Dr Tissa also ensured that the needs of the free clinic was promptly taken care of. He even spared a space in his office for the documenting team. On his rest day on Saturday (13 Mar), he appeared in the free clinic in his TIMA uniform and set to work, operating the patients alongside his Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts.

Dr Tissa shared that he had served in several clinics/hospitals and the way he approached work in the past was mainly focusing on clocking enough working hours so as to accumulate his personal wealth.

"I did my job. It was my occupation work I’m bound to do as a doctor. But what I felt after working with the TIMA team is that ‘dedication’ and ‘commitment’ mean much more than one’s duty and job,” Dr Tissa said sincerely.

Theme resonation
Last year, while praise about the free clinic spread among local medical community, Dr W.G.G.D. Weerasekara became curious about Tzu Chi and its medical wing. The dentist resolutely enrolled herself to become part of the association after taking part in the recent free clinic.

She said that it was the free clinic’s “theme of compassion” and the teamwork in the dental unit that touched her the most.

Dr Weerasekara has been enjoying serving her countrymen ever since she joined the state-run hospital in 2004. Speaking of being a professional, Dr Weerasekara shared that the duties involved are none other than leading by example, giving back to the society, and taking care of the underprivileged.

She went on to commend the multipurpose functions and mobility of the mobile dental units granted by TIMA Taiwan, which helped her carried out those duties in the dental unit. She added that the units could also be of use in schools to treat the students..

On the last day of the free clinic, Dr Weerasekara put on the TIMA uniform she received and assured that she will tell her colleagues about the “excellent job” done in the free clinic and encourage them to volunteer with TIMA.

Peer cheer
Outside at the registration area and resting room, scores of young nurses donning in British uniforms of the colonial period can be found helping with patient registration, nursing care, and doctor-patient translation. Many of them participated in last year’s outreach when they were still trainees with the Nursing Training School (NTS). They have graduated this year and are now practicing in hospitals.

Indica, one of the nurses, said, “This country has very poor people, and [the people] couldn’t get medicine easily. [However, Tzu Chi provides it to them free of charge.] [I can see] the patients are very happy during these three days.”

"This [free clinic] is a great opportunity for us to join TIMA and we are all very happy about it,” she added.

During the closing ceremony of the free clinic, the 40-odd nurses, including Indica, put on the TIMA uniform and took a group picture with the TIMA family. Like her peers, Indica was excited and enthused, “I’m proud to be in this uniform. It looks nice. I will wear it while I come next year!”

Though healthcare is free in Sri Lanka, the quality of treatment is generally below average and not readily accessible. With the establishment of the local TIMA chapter, we believe more positive forces could be gathered to relieve the suffering of the Sri Lankan people.

By Yan Su Yuan & Low Hai Loon
Translated by Nai Sheah Qin
Photos by Wong Twee Hee & Low Hai Loon


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