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IMU Medical Students Joins Yayasan Ikhlas in Making a Change to the Community of Semporna in Sabah

07 Apr 2022

On 27 February, a pilot group of International Medical University (IMU) student volunteers embarked on an incredible two-week journey to Semporna, Sabah, as part of an internship with Yayasan Ikhlas.

These students, who are studying the medical programme at the University, were:
 Alya Jasmine Ngu Ee-Lyn (Project Leader)
 Lee Wei Jun
 Ching Xiu Wei
 Muhammad Syahmi bin Nadzri
Puah Yi Xin

Back row (L to R): Muhammad Syahmi (IMU student volunteer), Dr Afiq (from Klinik Kesihatan Semporna), Ustaz Zaidi (Invited Special Guest for Health Carnival), Mr Azlan (Public Health Officer, Invited Guest Speaker) and Lee Wei Jun (IMU student volunteer) 

Front row (L to R): Alya Jasmine Ngu (IMU student volunteer), Ching Xiu Wei (IMU student volunteer) and Puah Yi Xin (IMU Student Volunteer) 

This great undertaking is known as the Semporna Project. The Semporna Project was an initiative between IMU and Yayasan Ikhlas Semporna, the only non-profit organisation that is overseeing thousands of communities in Semporna and its many surrounding islands. Yayasan Ikhlas Semporna initially began as Semporna Prihatin, a local initiative founded in 2020 by Mr Hassan Unus, Director of Yayasan Ikhlas Semporna, and graduate students from the Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It later gained attention and support of our IMU lecturer, Prof Zainur Rashid aka Prof Zain, who is the chairman of Yayasan Ikhlas.

Quick Snapshot of Semporna
In the words of En Hassan, the people live in “urban poverty”. Many work low-income jobs, such as fishermen or in the tourism sectors, with a net income of less than RM300 per month, and unable to support their many children. While the cities may look no different than the Seremban city-centre, the people in Semporna have difficulty in accessing clean water, affordable food, proper infrastructure, good education, healthcare and even national identification, leaving many in Semporna as “stateless”.

The students had first come to know about the Yayasan Ikhlas Semporna during their Obstetrics & Gynaecology (O & G) posting in November last year, listening to the stories recounted by Prof Zain and Prof Sharifah Sulaiha, who had returned from their week-long humanitarian mission in Semporna. Inspired by the experience, Alya proposed an elective project for Semester 8 students to volunteer at Yayasan Ikhlas Semporna. The idea gained the support from other like-minded students who had been inspired by Prof Zain and Prof Sulaiha, and wanted the opportunity to do volunteer work as well as do their part to serve the community. The elective project was approved and also sponsored by IMU. During the two-week internship, the students were involved in various volunteer work such as teaching English, classroom makeovers and sport days to the underprivileged students, aged 5-21 years old, of Al-Huda Learning Centre; raised funds for a toy room; offer humanitarian aid to distant island communities such as Maiga Island, Mabul Island, Labuan Haji and Kulapuan Island; and work with PKD Semporna Sabah to organise a Health Carnival at Al-Huda Learning Centre for the community of Kampung Pekan 2.

The students had taught English to underprivileged students, aged 5 to 21 years old. There are over 480 students that attend the Al-Huda Learning Centre, with over a hundred of them being orphans. Al-Huda Learning Center is a small community school managed by Mr Hassan and the Yayasan Ikhlas team. A majority of Al-Huda students had no prior exposure to English. Moreover, regardless of whether it was English or Bahasa Melayu, they had difficulty in reading and writing alphabets. Identifying this problem, the student volunteers tailored their lesson plans to suit the learning level of the students.

Aside from that, the children at the Al-Huda community do not have proper toys or sports equipment to facilitate their creative energy. Together, the student volunteers worked hard to raise funds for a playroom, and were successful in collecting over RM2000 worth of funds. The toys were bought and donated to the learning center.

The Health Carnival was held on 5 March. Offered during the Health Carnival was health screening, pap smear, dental health screening, catch up childhood immunizations and Covid-19 vaccination, educational talks on dental hygiene, sexual transmitted diseases and family planning. The students were involved in conducting health screening and pap smear for the people of Kg Pekan 2 with the aid of doctors and nurses from PKD Semporna Sabah.

The further away the communities are from Semporna, the harder it is to for the people to get supplies. That is why, one of the humanitarian activities that Yayasan Ikhlas does is bringing food and supplies to distant island communities. During these trips, the student volunteers would carry sacks of rice, canned food and supplies for the villagers. One village in Labuan Haji experienced a fire that devastated seven families. Yayasan Ikhlas is quick to their aid, and with the help of the student volunteers, the supplies were able to reach the families in need.

Whilst visiting the island communities, the students had also conducted a research on “Why many young adults in Semporna did not have SPM qualification?” From their research, they had discovered many obstacles such as them not having an IC, financial problems and also difficulty to access the schools, especially for students from the islands. From the internship, the students gained many experiences, both triumphant and also saddening.

Here were their responses:
Yi Xin: “This project made me reflect on my privileges and ability to help people.”
Ching: “The fact that communities that do not have basic necessities we would often take for granted was shocking to us. Yet, the people of Semporna persevere and survive.”
Wei Jun: “Our experience challenges us to consider and realise our roles as human, and how we should make an effort to help others regardless of the distance. Much more can be done for the socioeconomic development of neglected communities. Acts of kindness is not a two-way street but an eternally perpetuating cycle that benefits generations to come.”
Syahmi: “We learned different kinds of communities exist in Malaysia, and they need our attention and help. And I personally think that we need to support and participate more in this act of volunteerism so their voice can be heard.”
Alya: “We bore witness to the sides of Malaysia we couldn’t even fathom before we came here. We met lovely, wonderful people, who are suffering to no end. We met kids who don’t dare to dream because they don’t believe they have a future. Malaysia cannot be a developed country until everywhere is developed. From this experience, I hope to keep this project going, in hopes that we could make a Malaysia that we can be proud of.”

However, every project comes with its own set of challenges. A few of the challenges they had faced were attributed to the fact that this was a new project, for IMU and Yayasan Ikhlas (YI). “We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived here,” Alya reflected. “As we came to realise, a lot of the issues happening in Semporna couldn’t have been described verbally. It needed to be experienced. There were a few last-minute changes to the schedule that required us to be flexible and improvise on the spot. But considering this was the first project between IMU and YI, it is to be expected that things wouldn’t go perfectly planned. I believe that the challenges we faced tested our ability to adapt and react quickly to sudden changes, which are also important life skills that a future doctor should have.” “We hope to volunteer again in the future,” Ching said. “And to encourage our juniors to also participate in the programme and make this a sustainable project. I believe volunteering programmes should not just be a one-off thing. It is essential to “keep the ball rolling”, if we truly want to see a change in these communities in Semporna.” “Having financial support from the university really helped us during our internship. If the university could provide the same financial backing to future participants, we believe more students would be eager to join,” explained Yi Xin. “Student volunteers can also carry out more activities with larger funds from the university or the public.”

In conclusion, Project Semporna had been a resounding success. The project marks an important milestone for IMU in its Enhancing Personal and Professional Development in its students. The project would not have been made possible if not for the incredible initiative by the students to transverse beyond their comfort zones to help a community in need. In view of the project’s success, we would like to thank Prof Zain, Prof Sulaiha, Prof Sue Chen and the Yayasan Ikhlas Team; Mr Hassan Unus and Mr Bilal Jailani for their faith in our students. We hope to see more students take the initiative to protect, serve and build communities for the better. For the people, planet and society.

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