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Tzu Chi Elicit Smiles from Children at Dental Clinic

“I look forward to this day every year; my child just wishes for people to be around him and make him laugh,” said a mother whose child is a member of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled in Singapore (MINDS). The Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) recently held its tenth free dental clinic for MINDS beneficiaries at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Redhill, an undertaking made possible by eight dentists together with TIMA members and volunteers.

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MINDS beneficiaries express their gratitude through small acts like a card or a warm hug. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

“Super Mario and Winnie the Pooh are the mascots this time round. Don’t think it looks very easy, it’s actually very hot (inside the costume)!” said TIMA dentist Dr. Eugene Tang Kok Weng. He had some animal soft toys hung around his neck and gave moral support to the Tzu Chi volunteers helping out at the free dental clinic for MINDS members.

Dr. Tang continued, “When the MINDS patients become agitated or struggle, we have to help their family members calm them down.” Being on hand to render help and comfort was thus very important during the free clinic.

Humbling Oneself to Bring Cheer to Others

On 20 November 2016, TIMA members and Tzu Chi volunteers prepared the ground for the tenth free dental clinic held at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Redhill. They divided the work among themselves with some accompanying the MINDS patients while others prepared snacks and decorated the venue.

Tzu Chi volunteer Andrew Lim reminded the others that they had to engage the inner child in themselves in order to interact with the MINDS patients, using language that the former could relate to and understand. He said “It looks like we are bringing cheer to them (but) actually we ourselves feel happy.”

The arrival of 19 MINDS patients crowded the normally spacious Tzu Chi Free Clinic and brought a bustling atmosphere to the place. Every one of them was assigned a table where they were accompanied by their family members and a facilitator, who welcomed them with warm greetings and made small talk. The cakes and fragrant cups of Milo beverages also helped to break the ice.

Then, two mascots decked out in their colourful gear clumsily made their way in and captured everyone’s attention. At that moment, the Tzu Chi song “One Family” started up and the MINDS patients were taught the accompanying sign language by following the lead of the mascots and volunteers.

“Do you want a picture? I’ll help you!” After the song ended, the mascots mingled with the crowd and seeing the curiosity and happiness they evoked, volunteers offered to help take photographs for the visitors.

Wu Yu Qin, parent of a MINDS student was very grateful for the arrangements made. Her child had had four teeth removed last year and only needed dental cleaning this year. With tears glistening in her eyes she said, “I look forward to this day every year; my child just wishes for people to be around him and make him laugh.”

While awaiting their turn in the dental chair, the MINDS patients and their parents had a go at making thank you cards apart from chatting and watching cartoons. There were also a few comic scenes where some of the MINDS patients, aged from 16 to 42 years old, did not heed instructions to sit and would run wildly about in the clinic. Their parents and volunteers had their hands full as they hastily chased after them.

Perfection Does Not Exist But Mindsets Can Change

The scene in the waiting hall and the dental room was vastly different. “Ah…..” In unison, helpers and parents coaxed a MINDS patient to open his mouth wide for the dentist to perform a check.

“It’s okay, it’s okay……” “Don’t worry, you will become beautiful after this!” Utterances like these could be heard in the dental room.

“Look at the giraffe!” The patient would struggle as teeth polishing would inevitably result in nausea and vomiting, thus young volunteers from MINDS would try their best to divert the patient’s attention by waving animal puppets in front of them.

Apart from puppets, music too played a part in the dental treatments. The familiar strains of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” resounded off the walls continuously and helpers exercised their vocal chords vigorously to allay the fears of the patients.

Tang Pei Ling, a first-time volunteer in the MINDS dental clinic said that she felt as though the patients were her own children as she herself has children in the same age group. “Parents normally have various expectations and restraints placed on their own children, but the parents of these special needs children allow them free reign of expression.” From the colourful drawings produced by the MINDS members, she saw the deep love that these parents have for their children.

Volunteer Chen Ji Yuan who had his heavy Winnie the Pooh costume on, swayed his body clumsily to the beat of the music to bring on the smiles. “When they are happy, I feel happy too,” he said. He spoke frankly of how he used to avoid the mentally challenged but this changed when he joined Tzu Chi. He now feels that nobody is perfect and even mental patients are humans after all. Chen is 65 years old this year and he concluded: “There is really no need to ask for more as we’re not lacking in the material aspect; we must be grateful for what we have.”

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Volunteer Andrew Lim (squatting) warmly interacting with a MINDS patients, together with other volunteers and TIMA dentist Dr. Eugene Tang (first from left). Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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A MINDS patient high-fives the dental team happily at the completion of her dental treatment. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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Volunteers play a guessing game of “scissors, paper, stone” with MINDS patients. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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TIMA doctor Lin Li Fang (left) interacts with the MINDS members by remembering the innocence of childhood. She revealed that she learns the value of patience from observing their caregivers. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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Wu Yu Qin (centre), the parent of a MINDS patient, looks forward to this day every year as her child just wishes to have someone cheer him up and make him laugh. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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65–year-old volunteer Chen Ji Yuan (right) wears a mascot costume to bring smiles to the faces of MINDS patients. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

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