Though Singapore appears to be a prosperous country, there still exist pockets of needy and disadvantaged individuals in our midst. Dental care for these individuals is one aspect that must be looked after, and it is with this in mind that the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) has worked together with the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) to provide free dental care to selected beneficiaries with special needs over the past years.
At noon on 2 march 2014, 15 MINDS beneficiaries and their guardians who were accompanied by volunteers, turned up at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic. As they approached the clinic, they were warmly welcomed by the smiley team of dentists, medical personnel and Tzu Chi volunteers. The working team comprised a total of 64 people who took care of every aspect from reception to equipment maintainance, such that the MINDS beneficiaries received meticulous and efficient care amidst a shower of love over the five-hour free dental clinic.
Tender Words Dispel Fear
The sight of a dentist often causes even a normal child to feel some uneasiness, and for the majority of MINDS beneficiaries who are unable to express their fear verbally, this results in them inadvertantly expressing their emotions through various physical reactions. All TIMA members and volunteers came well-prepared for the day; wearing various caps with animal characters on them and welding flowery “props” in their hands, they talked and laughed with the beneficiaries in order to take their minds off their fear of receiving dental treatment.
“Because we are family, we care for each other, we are mutually grateful to each other….” As Tzu Ching members lead everyone in the sign language presentation of the song “One Family,” volunteers held the hands of beneficiaries and guided them in simple signing. Two Tzu Chings dressed up as “horses,” (it being the Year of the Horse according to the Chinese zodiac) and cheerily greeted the beneficiaries in turn. One young girl, thinking that the “horses” were real, burst into tears. Upon seeing this, one of the Tzu Chings immediately removed her mask and with reassuring tones, explained to the girl that she was just one of the volunteers. For her efforts, she was finally rewarded with a smile from the teary girl.
As group activities continued in the waiting area, the 15 MINDS beneficiaries took turns to enter the dental treatment room, accompanied by assisting volunteers. Some of the beneficiaries would start fidgeting or struggling once they got onto the dental chair, and volunteers had to quickly restrain them in order to prevent them from sustaining injuries to their gums and teeth. Once treatment was completed, everyone would cheer and praise them as a form of encouragement.
“This is his third time receiving dental care from Tzu Chi’s dental volunteers. The first time he had his teeth polished, he would not stop screaming and I felt very bad for him. However today, he doesn’t have much of a reaction and even came out smiling after it was done. I think he has now become used to it,” said parent Mr. Lu Guo Xiong, of his son. He recalled that at that time, the dentist had told them that his child needed to be anaesthetized in order to have his tooth removed. In another instance, before the tooth could be extracted, the anaesthesia had worn off, resulting in much worry for everyone.
Mr Lu and his wife are very grateful to Tzu Chi’s dental team for extending such care to their son, and on their own accord, they donated some money into Tzu Chi’s “bamboo coin bank,” hoping that they too, could extend help to those in need.
Chen Yong Shun from the Basic Knowledge Training Group (BKTG), a unit under MINDS, was also present to observe the proceedings that day. He said: “In general, most MINDS students do not like to visit the doctor, but the atmosphere here is not like a clinic at all. The volunteers are very attentive to detail, and they use many different props to reassure the beneficiaries. I hope to be able to arrange for more MINDS students from different locations to receive dental care this year.”
A Group Effort with an Eye for Details
Tzu Ching Chen Xiao Yi reflected upon the challenges she faced during the day she spent in accompanying one MINDS beneficiary, and was full of admiration for their parents upon seeing the efforts they had exerted in encouraging their children to step into the dental clinic. She commented that one could imagine how much hard work they put in to care for their children on a daily basis.
While waiting for their turn, MINDS beneficiaries had the opportunity to design and craft handmade thank you cards for the dentist. After observing their artistic ability, Tzu Ching Xiao Zhai Xiang was of the opinion that no one should view them any differently from the rest of us.
Mr. Zhang Fu Sheng, a service manager from the dental equipment company, had known of Tzu Chi since the days when the Tzu Chi Free Clinic was located in the Chinatown area through his work in helping to transport dental chairs and other related equipment. The previous year, when the free dental clinic was halfway in progress, he had rushed down upon being informed that some problems with the equipment had cropped up. “Knowing that Tzu Chi is conducting the free dental clinic for MINDS beneficiaries again, I decided to be on standby here,” he said.
This time, though a problem with the equipment occurred again, it was quickly resolved with the timely intervention of Mr. Zhang. “Everyone present here gives of himself so selflessly, so even though today is not a working day for me, I do not mind making myself available,” he said happily of his maiden full-day volunteering effort.
Dr. Eugene Tang, one of the main coordinators for the free dental clinic this time, is happy to note that over the past few years, TIMA members have not only contributed valuable medical expertise, they have also helped in ways such as programme planning and logistics etc. With their previous experience in organizing free clinics for MINDS beneficiaries, they were able to complete the undertaking an hour earlier than the usual five hours required in previous years.
He said: “Before starting the treatment, I would be very nervous as the MINDS beneficiaries all react differently; I would continually remind myself to calm down and focus on being efficient and accurate.”
At four that afternoon, the dental clinic ended on a successful note. Both beneficiaries and their parents left the clinic happily and volunteers cheerily saw them up the bus on their homeward journey.