“Country Road, take me home, to the place, I belong……”
11-year-old Sacha* sang along to the popular American folk song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" as it was played.
A MINDS client, he was visiting the Tzu Chi Free Clinic at Redhill the first time (with his parents) for dental treatment and felt uneasy when he arrived, refusing to enter the treatment room. After listening to the lively songs and singing along with the volunteers, he gradually relaxed himself and eventually allowed a dentist to clean his teeth.
The dental team from the Singapore chapter of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA Singapore) started cooperating with the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) in 2004, to provide free dental examinations and treatments for the intellectually challenged patients once a year. Services provided included filling, scaling and tooth extraction.
On the morning of 8th December 2019, 81 TIMA members and Tzu Chi volunteers arrived at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic to make final preparations to provide free dental services to 20 patients from MINDS.
"I like the doctors and the caring nurses," remarked Sacha.
There was also a birthday celebration on that day to celebrate the birthday of those born in December. Tzu Chi volunteers sang the birthday song in six different languages—Mandarin, Malay, Korean, Cantonese, English, and Tamil, a language that Sacha is familiar with.
Sacha, who loves joyful occasions, joined the celebration together with the December babies. Sacha’s mother explained that due to his poor vision, Sacha has a more sensitive sense of hearing and will thus feel uneasy in a noisy environment. However, the interesting programme and delicious snacks prepared by the volunteers made Sacha very happy, and he was able to mingle with everyone after warming up.
One of the songs that the volunteers played was “Lao Shu Ai Da Mi” (Mice Love Rice), a popular Mandarin pop song. It was another favourite song of the MINDS clients.
"He is very happy. There was singing and storytelling, and he is very cooperative today. After becoming familiar with the environment, he is able to undergo the entire dental treatment process with ease,” said a mother who had brought her child, a MINDS client, to the clinic the third time, for the free dental services.
The mother shared that her child struggled quite a bit during the first two occasions and needed the volunteers to comfort him to calm him down. But he seemed happier than usual on this day, as he loved the songs and singing to the music, and that made the dental procedure much easier.
His mother also said that it is more challenging to take her child to an ordinary dental clinic. Everything became easier after her child familiarised himself with the dentist. She also said that she would continue to bring her child to the free clinic for treatment next year.
15 years of selfless, loving efforts
Dr. Ong Chin Kian, a senior TIMA volunteer dentist, shared that seeing some children whom he had served in the past at Tzu Chi’s free clinic in Chinatown still coming for the dental services was an affirmation that benefited the patients and the dental team as well.
Dr. Ong found it very meaningful to be able to help these special needs patients by dedicating his love to serving them. He was also very pleased to see young doctors volunteering for the good cause, and learning how to provide care for patients with special needs.
Over the years, the TIMA dental team has accumulated much valuable experience and provided quality dental services to the MINDS patients. And Tzu Chi would arrange for a dental team to visit those who required follow-up treatments.
Dr. Samsudin (pictured below, first from the left), who has participated in Tzu Chi's free dental clinics overseas a number of times, was volunteering in the annual free dental clinic for MINDS’ clients the first time.
"This is truly an eye opening experience for me. We need to show empathy to patients who resist dental treatment and make sure that they are comfortably treated," said Dr. Samsudin.
He also encouraged everyone to start volunteering from a young age, because volunteer work is part of life, and it is a way to give back to society by serving the needy and unfortunate. He also complimented the dedication of Tzu Chi volunteers, who give of themselves without seeking anything in return, and looked forward to contributing more, to bring light to the lives of others.
Besides dental services, the residents also looked forward to the interesting programme items prepared by the volunteers. The theme of the day’s programme was “environmental protection”. Through a skit, volunteers let everyone be aware of the danger of plastic pollution and encouraged all to stop using polyfoam and other disposables.
Tzu Chi volunteer, Zhou Haiyan, who runs a fashion design business, had designed “outfits” of different styles. She then worked with volunteer Lee Tien Li to make the outfits within four days. Both of them came for the event with their families, and Lee’s family of five participated in the performances together.
Lee said with a happy smile, "I look forward to such an opportunity where my family members can participate in the same activity together and share on a common topic. It strengthens parent-child bonding, which is really great!"
Members of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association and Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class, together with their team leaders, wore clothes made of recyclables and acted as “fashion models” on this day. They did a cat walk while a piece of music was being played, sending laughter to the amused MINDS clients and their families.
Amid a rousing applause, the programme’s host explained the meaning and importance of environmental protection and encouraged everyone to protect the environment with the hands they were applauding with, starting from themselves at home.
The free dental clinic, which was filled with joyous laughter throughout, created a strong festive atmosphere. At the end of the event, the MINDS clients gave their handmade Thank you cards to the TIMA members and volunteers. Then, everyone formed a circle, hand in hand, and sang the heartwarming Tzu Chi song, "One Family", before bringing home the blessings they had received that day.
*A pseudo name is used to protect the privacy of the patient.