There are times when I sit back, to wonder and reflect on what I have done to deserve so much blessings in my life. Whenever I feel like life has become a little too mundane, a little too predictable or a little too comfortable (until I could feel my soul withering away in the midst of the same repetitive routine) God will send me a new experience to waken up my soul and rejuvenate my spirit. He didn’t let me continue being heedless and ignorant, comfortable in what little, insignificant things I have done in this life. He guided me to search for something MORE in life that would make my existence meaningful again… colourful again… hopeful again.
If God were to let me continue being the old me without any wonderful experience for personal and spiritual growth, I don’t know where I would be at this moment. Perhaps, I would be bored and disillusioned with life by now. But Alhamdulillah, every now and then He would send me to a #life #BootCamp to beat the disillusionment out of my soul and thrash the cynicism out of my heart.
Relief Mission: Imaret4Sulawesi
I believe that the year 2018 is my year for volunteerism. And it so happens that 2018 was not my exam year (unlike the two previous years) and I could devote more time on social issues that I believe in. (God has perfect timing and perfect planning in the timeline he has created for the plot in my life story. Thank You, God.)
I volunteered to be a PACA in April/May 2018. I remember how MUCH I learned just by mingling with people of different background than me. Just by being involved in the process of election, I gained a lot of insight regarding the political arena in our country. Those are the knowledge I could not get simply by doing my favourite pastime of reading. Though it pains me to say this, I must admit that reading is not ALWAYS enough (I stupidly used to feel like I can pick up any book to learn on any subject without having to get out of my house. LOL). Reading only provides you a certain level of intellectual insight on any particular subject but it would not provide you with emotional insight, nuances, perspectives, reflections and most importantly #SpiritualGrowth and #PersonalMaturity which you can only gain by being in the field. It doesn’t even BEGIN to compare! Deductive learning (by reading) is great…. but inductive learning (experience in the field) is almost always superior!
When the news of earthquake and tsunami in Palu hit the media, I was devastated by the heartbreaking destruction and the numbers of life lost. My friend and I registered our names to several NGOs to volunteer to help, either as a medical/psychological team or just general aspect of volunteerism (food and basic needs distribution/cleaning crews / setting up tents). At last after 3 weeks of waiting with no response by any NGO, IMARET answered our application to volunteer as part of a medical team in which our tasks would include giving general health service as well as #PsychologicalFirstAid (PFA) to survivors. I can still recall how ecstatic me and Dr. H were to be called upon to serve in this relief mission by IMARET. Thank you, IMARET for giving us this opportunity to experience relief mission abroad. It was an experience of a lifetime that will never be forgotten, Insya Allah.
IMARET has slowly but surely gaining recognition for all their good humanitarian works which had first begun in December 2014. Just recently, IMARET had received the Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA) in the category of Disaster Relief NGO. The IMARET tagline of “Charity Begins with You” conveys the principle that ANYONE can contribute to humanity in whatever capacity we can. There are many categories of volunteerism including arts, social services, health services, community empowerment, public safety, environmental protection, and disaster relief. If you are not a doctor but you are passionate about the environment for example, then join the relevant NGOs like Environmental Protection Society Malaysia or Malaysian Nature Society.
Personally, as a doctor, I joined MERCY, Islamic Relief and IMARET as platforms for my volunteerism. But I also joined other NGOs related to writing/arts. There is always something you can contribute to the society regardless of your career or your lifestyle. You just need to find it and take the leap. (For someone who is very skeptical to join any organization unnecessarily, I am all in when it comes to organizations involving volunteerism. I am not even a member of Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), see? But when it comes to volunteerism, I would join without a second thought.)
Let me share with my readers a certain insight I gained a few years ago about life. Most people think that volunteers are very altruistic and noble-hearted, who do all these charity because of the nature of their good hearts. While I am sure that those are, of course, true, to a certain extent, but it doesn’t explain the whole picture. As a psychiatry MO, I believe that behavior is sustained when it is rewarded. I don’t think of myself as kind, altruistic or noble by any stretch of the imagination (hahah! Really! Those who knew me KNEW that Afiza garang… mana ada dia nak baik hati tak pasal-pasal. Soft-spoken pun tidak. Mother Theresa jauh sekali bagai langit dengan bumi. Haha). But I volunteered anyway because the act in itself is rewarding to me. I have my own selfish reason for volunteering. For example, I gained immense satisfaction, pleasure and euphoria when I witnessed the previous government was brought down and replaced by PH when I volunteered to become a PACA. I volunteered then not because I was so noble… but because I was so angry and because I had things in life I cared about and I wanted to champion those issues! Not really because I was that good, or that nice or that altruistic who would sacrifice all pleasures in life for the sake of others. I am too practical and too realistic to ever achieve the kind of nobility and altruism that are usually associated with volunteerism. Seriously, Mother Theresa, I am NOT.
So why did I volunteer to go to #PaluSulawesi recently? Again, not because I was that self-sacrificing or that altruistic with no self-interest whatsoever. Volunteering is addictive, you see. I did it FOR MYSELF! I did it for the experience it would give me. I did it for the knowledge and the wisdom I could gain. I did it to know how people cope with trauma and to experience the effect of their resilience on my own soul. It cleansed me in ways I could not even properly describe and explain. It must be experienced and felt. And that’s why I encourage all my readers to volunteer for a cause that you guys truly believe in… experience that feeling and that emotion first… go inductive… and come back and tell me whether or not you can describe yourself as altruistic when you decide to volunteer again and again and again. Once you have tasted it, you would KNOW that you volunteer for YOU! For the benefit that it gives YOU! For the wisdom and insight it gives YOU! Things you can never get by staying home and doing the same old thing over and over again. So, volunteerism actually benefits YOU! That’s the reward that sustains the behaviour. Really, for your own private reasons, you actually volunteer for yourself MOSTLY… not just for others!
So yeah, I volunteered to Palu because I remember how it had felt while volunteering previously… and I wanted to experience the emotional fulfilment and the cleansing of the soul and the mindful reflection that would come with the experience. Those are the rewards I gain by my volunteering. See? As I said, behavior is sustained when it is rewarded. The Sunnahtullah is such that charity benefits the giver more than the receiver. And that’s the truth.
The Wonderful Colours Of Diversity
In this mission, I have met a journalist and a full-time Humanitarian worker. It was great to get to know people of different career background than me. For the first time in many years, I made non-doctor friends with whom I can hit it off immediately.
Usually, it would be quite difficult for me to feel at ease with people who did not have any common ground with me. Because, really… what would we talk about? I am not really a people person. When I talk to someone, there must be a reason for that communication to happen. I don’t seek interaction just for the sake of interacting… it would not be enjoyable to me.
But while being on a mission when you have to share the same limited space in the car for hours to reach a very deserted area where all the unmet needs are, you get to know each other better. You get to know their habits, their life philosophy, what makes them tick…. those are points of learning you wouldn’t get by interacting with people of the same background. Nothing challenges your preconceived ideas more than when you had to hang out with someone of a different background than yours. And boy… we had numerous conversations that challenged each others’s preconceived ideas and belief system. It was heated but it was fun. We didn’t always agree with each other but we reflected on each other’s points and it opened up our minds.
I guess, in that 10 days I felt young and youthful again. We could even argue over songs and lyrics played on the radio in the car… thinking that each other’s interpretation was somehow less accurate than our own. Haha. It was silly but still it was intellectually stimulating… a conversation I haven’t had with many people since I joined medical school.
When I was in MRSM Langkawi, my friends were those who wrote poetries, composed short stories and read literatures. We talked about books all the time. We talked about social issues and politics even when we were just secondary school students. My ambition then was to be a lawyer or a writer or a journalist…. things involving social sciences rather than pure sciences. But alas, my scholarship was in medicine and nowadays I found myself surrounded by people who are mostly clinical rather than creative. I still read and write…. But I no longer have the same type of friends who share my interest and with whom I can talk about books and social or political issues that used to fire my soul when I was younger. (One of the reason I fought so hard to get into psychiatry was because this field has the closest resemblance to social sciences compared to other specialties).
I guess, for that short 10 days I felt young because I was learning and absorbing knowledge like a new baby being thrusted into the world for the first time. Just like a baby whose world shifted from that of the mother’s womb to that of the planet earth, MY world shifted from the cocoon of all that is medicine to the larger concept of what humanitarian is all about. THAT is the difference between volunteering in an NGO than in MOH… you get a taste of a different flavor. A forgotten flavor that I used to taste and now fully remember. And it was refreshing.
When you hang out with a journalist or a humanitarian worker, they told you of their experiences covering news and volunteering in war zones. The conversation was new, novel and interesting. They told you stuff that you only read from your thriller novels all these while… of international intelligence network, of humanitarian issues, of battles and conflicts that you could only see on TV.
They taught me and Dr. H the concept of having a ‘grab bag’. They said that as non-civilians, their grab bags are something that would always be with them wherever they go. They have been trained that way…to always be ready to run and leave everything behind with only their grab bag in hand. Since then, me and Dr. H created our own grab bag… a much simpler version of their own grab bags. Ours only contained our purse, phone and passports. Theirs contained money, phone or any other mode of communication, passports, laptop or any gadget required for them to complete their mission, change of clothes and survival necessities (water/ simple energizing food).
Listening to their stories, looking at their inspiring Instagram pictures of all their previous missions… I felt a certain amount of poignancy and nostalgia. Suddenly, the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost knocked my mind. I wondered then, how my life would be if I had said no to my medicine scholarship.
People Who Touched Your Heart
And then there were the survivors… fellow human beings who touched your heart with their beautiful resilience and amazing coping mechanism.
We met survivors who had continued working at Puskesmas (Pusat Kesihatan Masyarakat) while dealing with their own loss and grief. Their welcoming smiles totally warmed my heart. It embarrassed me when they thanked me over something that I felt so small and insignificant. We were at Puskesmas seeing cases in the general clinic and never expected to be given lunch or anything. We brought our own breakfast bars for lunch. But look at what they provided for us every day we were there! Great yummy lunch that we never expected to get while on a mission! We felt like our own small effort is nothing compared to their own acceptance of our presence. It was a truly humbling experience. It is amazing how you can develop closeness quite effortlessly but deeply just because all of you have the same mission and the same goal!
In that 10 days in Palu, there were times when I surprised myself by thinking “Now, I know why relationship is important. Why networking is vital in a mission! It makes your work process so much easier!” I used to feel like “I can sacrifice relationship over my version of truth, my principles and what I believe as right. You either follow me or you don’t. But I am gonna do it and there is nothing you can do to stop me!” I am even like that with my own parents and my family… and they have learned to accept that part of me so selflessly all these years and I never thought a thing about it. I took it all for granted. To a certain extent, I STILL believe that truth and justice should always trump everything else in life. But these days, I started thinking that maybe there are ways I can have my principles/truth/justice and still maintain heartwarming relationships with people and mind their feelings a little bit. Well, I don’t know. Cognitive dissonance is hard to detangle.
And the kids! They were entertained by the simplest of things. It was so easy to coax laughter out of them. Look, I am not great with kids, in general. I am not entertaining enough and I don’t know how to act all adorable and silly with kids. I mean… heck, I am a serious person most of the time. My jovial side can only be accessed by someone I am already close to and even then, I am not all that humorous, LOL. But when you are on a mission, you have no choice but to strengthen your free-traits and put aside your biogenic traits for awhile. So that’s what I did. Performing and conducting one class full of kids every day are hard work, guys! At the end of each session…. I was drained and exhausted. But it was a good kind of exhaustion! The best kind!
Towards the end of our mission, we the Sierra Delta group members (the 4th group sent by IMARET to Sulawesi) had experienced hardships and joy, tears and laughter, quarrels and reconciliation. I would say, we knew each other’s characters and annoying habits quite well at the end. Hahaha. (I know, I can be annoying. LOL. Tabik spring to them for their kind tolerance).
After all our numerous daily talk and conversation about songs, one of my group members could already predict what sort of songs I would like or dislike. One day, he just told me to find this particular song on YOU TUBE that he was sure would be my type of song. I was very skeptical about it initially. But I clicked on the song anyway for the whole Sierra Delta group to listen to. And what a surprise… I was immediately in love with that song. The title of the song is Menimbang Rasa by an Indonesian singer, Oslan Hussein. I was so amazed that he could predict my taste in songs so well! Haha.
We played that song while being on a journey to various deserted areas to conduct PFA sessions and I have come to think of that song as a theme song of our experience in Palu Sulawesi. Our group song!
Until now, I keep putting the song on repeat. Haha. This is what I call as #CannotMoveOnSyndrome.
Have a listen and let me know if you love the song like I do. 😉
I end my reflection of my experience in #PaluSulawesi here, my dear readers. Until next time, I remain, your humble blogger.
My next post would InsyaAllah be on the details of the actual mission itself. And there were a lot of details to write about but it would be too cramped to share everything in one post. So if you are interested in humanitarian mission and would like to know the mental and physical preparation required, the actual work involved and everything else, stay tuned!