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IMU Pharmacy Student had an Eye-Opening Experience at a Community Outreach Programme in Perak

09 Jul 2015

Vanessa Lee Suppiah, a Semester 7 pharmacy student at the International Medical University (IMU), had the opportunity to undergo her internship at Pfizer. During this internship, Vanessa was involved in the Pos Yum outreach, a community outreach programme in collaboration with Mercy Malaysia, Vanessa recounts her experience here. “If there is one thing that I will remember doing my internship with Pfizer, it would be my time as a volunteer with Pfizer’s Health Fellow. The programme enables colleagues to volunteer their health knowledge and skills to communities in remote parts of the country. Under this programme, I had the good fortune of being a part of the Pos Yum outreach, (which was a collaboration between Pfizer and NGO, Mercy Malaysia) – which was my maiden visit to an actual orang asli settlement in Malaysia. Pos Yum, is located in Perak. The nearest town from it is Sungai Siput, which is an 80km drive away. The community is made up of 5 villages, comprising of approximately 770 people.

In preparation of this mission, our coordinator, Lip Fong briefed the volunteers on the aim of this screening. She reminded us of the reason we were doing this – to raise health literacy of Malaysians – by supplementing Ministry of Health monthly health treatments.

On the day of departure, which was 17 April 2015, we travelled with the Mercy Malaysia team. I did not know what to expect, and boy, did I learnt that one needs to have a strong stomach (or an empty one) when traveling inwards to Pos Yum. We had to go in via four wheel drives as the roads conditions were not one which a normal vehicle could adhere to. In fact, I felt as if I was constantly on a roller coaster! Still, although it was a rocky journey, we managed to enjoy the breathtaking view on the way up the bumpy road. As we approached Kampung Pos Yum it began to drizzle. The team was welcomed by the village kids, who ran out in the rain to mandi hujan. We waved and exchanged smiles. Indeed, it was a wonderful way to be greeted! Pos Yum 2 As soon as we settled in, we were given a briefing of the scope of task that would happen the next day. After that we retired early to bed, as we needed to be up early the next day. Our ‘hotel’ of the night was the surau and our beds were the chilly cement floor – which took some time getting used to. Throughout the night, we could feel insects crawling all over our faces. You know that you’re in a jungle when that happens! Early morning the next day, we excitedly setup the screening booth at the screening site – which was the kindergarten; where we say many villagers – be it men, women, or children gathering. The screening ran smoothly, although I think I scared a few toddlers with my face mask! They would not stop crying even though I frantically removed my face mask and gave them my biggest smile! Speaking of toddlers, one thing that struck me was how young the mothers were. I saw ladies, five years younger than me, having children of their own. I learn through conversing with them, that these young couples need to learn to fend for themselves and raise a family as a rite to adulthood. It was challenging communicating to the villagers as the barely understood my version of Bahasa Melayu. I found myself mentally exhausted by mid-afternoon, even though my task was just measuring weight and height. The highlight of my trip would be the ‘mass kutu eradication’ amongst the children of the village! I do admit, some of us with longer hair, watched from afar as we heard kutu can jump very (I mean very) far! One of our brave team member however, took some close-up pictures of the parasite on her DSLR for us to see.

After the kutu eradication mission, it started raining and we had a short break, before we continued with our night session – which was a Hypertension talk by Mercy’s volunteer, Dr Chen who elaborated on the risk and prevention methods. It was heartwarming to see the villagers’ participation – especially so during the quiz, which was conducted right after Dr Chen’s talk!

As the night was still young, the villagers entertained us with a very orang asli karaoke session. We observed that the orang asli community was really close knit – as they showed unwavering support to their fellow villagers who performed – via cheers, claps and shouts of encouragement. Sitting with them gave me a sense of nostalgia – I felt as if I had travel back into time – and became a part of history – reliving the Tanah Melayu days. Indeed, the whole session left me impressed about how musically gifted these people were. The next morning, we rose early and began our journey to the next village – Kampung Bewsok for our second screening session. After a few wrong turns, up and down the slippery road, we reached our destination. A small wooden house, which overlooked picturesque mountain scenery, was to be our screening post. Kampung Beswok¸is about a 30-minute journey away from Kampung Pos Yum. Although the population is smaller than the previous village, with 254 people, the number of people that were undiagnosed with hypercholestermia was greater than the day before! We were later informed that due to the rain the night before, there were water cuts in the village, to which the call was made by our team leader to head out to Ipoh that day itself after the screening. This left me with mixed emotions as I was reluctant to leave, but at the same time, I really could do with a good hot shower.

Before heading out, we took the last few precious moments that we had, soaking up the ambiance, taking pictures and interacting with the village children. Seeing the happy smiles on the face of the villagers as we waved goodbye was worth the backaches (from sleeping on the cement floor), bumpy ride, insects’ bites as well as the risk of contracting communicable diseases.

In the past, I have been involved in numerous community service projets and community outreach programmes but I have to say, this was truly, an eye opener for me. As opportunity does not often comes knocking at our door, I decided to grab it, and be a part of the team to go forth and provide free health screening in Pos Yum. And truly, I have no regrets as it was rewarding!”

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