Jun 15, 2015

Terrific trip, jubilant journey, a heart ablaze

The people were waiting all over the place. Some did not look sick. But they were still hanging around waiting for us. Most of them were women and children.

Villagers waiting to see the doctors

Before this trip I had always wanted to go on a missions trip, particularly, East Timor. I did not know anything about East Timor except that it is a land so far away.

At the start of 2015, I prayed that God will help me be more productive this year. With my mind set on missions, I prayed that God would use me in any way.

I was nervous before I attended the first meeting for the trip. I didn’t know anyone except the leader of the team. The rest of the team consisted of doctors, dentists and nurses. How could I possibly contribute? But when they told me that I would be packing and dispensing medicines, I was very happy.

The original plan of the trip was to focus on conducting training workshops for the East Timor doctors over three days and one day for a mobile clinic. But unfortunately, our workshop clashed with a country-wide “Carrying of the Cross” event which all doctors in East Timor had to attend. So plans were changed to three days of mobile clinic in three villages. I was the happiest because that meant I would be packing more medicines and there would be work for me every day.

Our work was made so much easier by the help given by our colleagues in East Timor. Mike, Yudha, Agung, Novi, Nathan and his wife, Katarina, worked together to prepare the groundwork for us.

Nathan and Katarina

We travelled up to the village, crossing rocky, dry river beds. At the villages, we would set up either in a church building or a school. There would be three doctors for consultation. After that the villagers would take their medicines from the dispensary. There were also two dentists who checked and extracted teeth.

Doctors with patients

Doctor treating an infected hand

Dentist checking teeth of villager

We also brought toothbrushes and toothpaste and had a little lesson for the children on how to brush their teeth.

Children learning how to brush their teeth

We also played with the children and did art and craft with them. The kids loved the games and working with their hands.

I looked at their faces and their eyes. They have such big, round eyes. They break into wide smiles so easily. There was contentment and cheerfulness in their faces. I looked at their feet. They were bare and dusty. They were running around, playing on sandy, uneven, dirty ground. I thought of my own collection of shoes, sandals and slippers back home. The children have no footwear.

I am the sort of person that hates the heat and loves air-conditioning. It was hot there but our dispensary was outside in the shade. Deborah (a nurse) and I stood all the time. Yet, with the breeze blowing, the trees and the children around us, it was comfortable, light and free.

Gayl and Deborah waiting to dispense medicines

At the end of the day, we returned to the beach resort we stayed in. We did not have rooms but slept in huge tents.

Our tents facing the sea at Cameo Beach Resort

It was the first time I had slept in a tent. I was afraid of mosquitoes. In all my life, mosquitoes love me. They would come to me first before anybody else. I also need hot water for my showers. On top of all that, I have a back problem which requires a sturdy mattress whenever I sleep.

But you know, sleeping in a tent was fun. It was cozy and every night, I could hear the lapping of the waves at the beach next to the resort. In the closeness of nature and the stillness of the night, I could feel God close by.

God close by

The beach resort had newly installed water heaters! And their beds? They had a thin mattress which sunk in the middle. But you know what, every morning, I sprung out of bed with absolutely no aches.

Wifi? What Wifi? For a person who is glued to my mobile devices every day, it was a time of complete focus on the work at hand. There were no distractions. I was in a world in which the work I needed to do was the only thing that mattered.

I am a 57 year old woman who has retired. I was the oldest in the team. The youngest was 27 years old. I experienced the bonding and team spirit. Each of us united in one spirit and going beyond the task we were assigned to do when we interacted with every patient or child. All that we did to prepare ourselves spiritually through prayers, these refreshed, rejuvenated and recharged me. My heart was ablaze.

After all these weeks of returning from East Timor, do I still want to go back? Yes! Sign me up already! I have informed my leader to “chope” a place for me in the next trip. I shall share with you some more then.

Story By Gayl Tan and Wong Kah Wei; Photographs By Huang Wang Nian and Hooi Shing Chuan

Empowering (S), Empowering (TL), Holistic (S), Holistic (TL), Medical & Dental Missions, Singapore, Skill-based volunteering, Timor Leste