Inspired by her experiences on past outreach trips, overseas Singaporean student Victoria Tan – who’s studying podiatry in Brisbane, Australia – organised a medical mission trip to Iloilo, Philippines in January 2018. Together with 15 other healthcare professionals and students, they served the community by providing free medical aid to over 700 people of all ages.
It all started on a past trip to the Philippines with my church in 2014. I remember how I felt when the children from the dumps of Smokey Mountain in Manila – with their dirt, grime and head lice – ran towards me when I first arrived. A part of me really wanted to run, but I saw the pure joy on the children’s faces as they excitedly hugged and clamored all over us. When we left days later and as our van departed after a celebrity-like send off, tears welled up in my eyes as I helplessly watched the children go back to picking rubbish from the dumps.
Despite returning to my life in Singapore, part of my heart had been captured by these precious children, and I had a deep desire to return and do whatever I could to give back to them and their community again.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a medical mission trip to Surabaya, Indonesia, organised by MOH Holdings (MOHH) and YMCA. On this trip, we were tasked with running various health check stations, like taking down patients’ medical history, measuring blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and dispensing medicine. I also had the opportunity to learn how to organise and run a medical mission on lean resources and manpower, and how to manage those on the ground This then gave me the idea to organise a medical mission trip to the Philippines, the place I’d promised myself I’d return to.
With the experience I gained on the Surabaya trip, I started exploring ways to organize a trip of my own. But thoughts like “What on earth am I thinking? Why even bother going through all this hassle?” crept up on me, because I’d felt like I had minimal knowledge and experience to organize a medical mission of this scale. But I clung to my conviction, and my promise.
After much planning and coordination, this medical mission trip materialised in January 2018, led by physiotherapist Janael Tan and me. 16 of us – including two medical doctors and 14 MOHH scholars specialising in a range of allied health professions – travelled to four barangays in Iloilo City, providing free medical aid to over 700 people of all ages.
Similar to the medical mission in Surabaya, there were also multiple stations for patients to visit – like physiotherapy and podiatry, if required – to assess their health condition. At the podiatry station, a fellow podiatrist and I treated wounds, calluses and corns, and took the opportunity to educate locals on foot care and hygiene. There were also sessions on nutrition for the adults, and a dental hygiene one for children.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was interacting with the villagers, and it always reminds me of the reason I’d organised this trip in the first place. I appreciated how grateful they were, even for simple things like a packet of biscuits or a simple handshake. Many also never complained about waiting, and they’d always graciously allow the elderly to take their turn first. During our outreach in Estancia (a municipality of Iloilo City), we had to stop the queue due to overwhelming demand, and around 10 patients weren’t able to see the doctors even after waiting for 2-3 hours. I expected them to be angry, but there were still smiles on their faces as they shook our hands to thank us. I was perplexed by their reaction, but at the same time was filled with more respect for these villagers – we have so much to learn from them.
As I reflect on my experience, I am thankful – for the privilege to serve, for every person I encountered, and the amazing team that inspired me each day with their perseverance, adaptability, and the willingness and readiness to serve. I am also grateful for the support from family and friends, and especially Evangel Tabernacle in Iloilo City and MOHH, without whom this trip wouldn’t have been possible. Evangel Tabernacle’s enthusiastic volunteers helped with on-ground logistics, liaising with the local barangay (suburb) chiefs and even translating for us during the medical sessions, while MOHH provided us with invaluable sponsorship, guidance and support for this trip, and patiently assisted us with our various requests.
Aside from providing medical aid to the poor and needy, I also wanted the participants to have a character-building and skills-developing opportunity to run a medical mission. Ultimately, for them to be inspired to give back where they can to the community, be it in Singapore or overseas. I hope this experience will not remain as one that is merely ‘feel good’, but instead ignite a spark within each of us to carry a heart for the people in and around our community.
SG Cares is a movement to support Singaporeans’ goodwill. It is about sharing inspiring stories, forging partnerships and growing opportunities for volunteerism. You may be far away from home, but Singaporeans overseas actively contribute to good causes, whether in your current community, or those back in Singapore.