Community Service in Kampung Tembok Baharu By Ng Li Hwee, on behalf of Class Year 4 Group 2, Batch 2013-2018
In retrospect, the sight of 16 young medical undergraduates standing in the dusty streets of a deserted village in Terengganu may have seemed out of place. But we were on a mission. Most of us come from suburban areas of big metropolitans such as Kuala Lumpur and Johor, but we were out to study the prevalence of overweight and obesity amongst Chinese adults in a Terengganu rural village as part of our community medicine posting. Alas, that meant knocking door-to-door for data collection and pleading with folks to allow us to measure their height and weight.
We had our reservations, but the villagers were friendly and warm at first contact. They welcomed us with open arms, some were even grateful for the company. The majority of them were in their senior years, and would willingly strike up a conversation or two with us, sparing a little more than just a few minutes. In fact, having lived there for so long, they knew each other very well. This warm community was hospitable and even helped by guiding us to other nearby houses to collect data. The data collecting task took us a number of days.
As fulfilling as it was to meet the lovely folks, it was back to the air-conditioned classrooms to re-connect with our laptops and steady internet connection to examine the data collected. Our data showed that more than half of the villagers were either overweight or obese, and as part of our community service for our community medicine posting, we've decided to bring a little more joy and goodwill to the kind villagers by educating them about obesity, its hazardous effects and prevention methods. This community service is a compulsory requirement in our undergraduate course, but it was not something to dread about. Secretly, we were all glad to be able to give something back to the affable folks at the village.
The day for our little 'educational talk' arrived. A small but enthusiastic group of 20 villagers gathered at the Buddhist Association hall, all eager to listen to what we had in store for them. The talk started off with some eye-opening facts - that the obesity rate in Malaysia is one of the highest in Asia - a shocking revelation to the villagers as gasps filled the room. The villagers asked many questions in a slight uproar as they were curious about obesity, its measurements and its effect on our body.
We explained about Body Mass Index, which was used to measure overweight and obesity; but we also highlighted that we used the classification that was meant for Asians and not the quintessential 1998 World Health Organisation's BMI classification. A discussion ensued where we explained the effects of obesity on our bodies and our major systems, and how the food they were consuming may very well be the culprits behind a heart attack or a stroke. Shockingly to us, all these were news to the villagers, and we realised how little their awareness was over such important life and death matters. Some were seen taking down notes or capturing pictures of our slide presentation.
We adopted a problem-solution method for our talk. With obesity being the problem, we emphasised on two important solutions: diet and exercise. Many were unaware of the differences between carbohydrates and protein, and we went on to further explain the food pyramid, daily consumption recommendations and some tips and tricks to divide their plates into three portions of fruits/vegetables, carbohydrates and protein. We also highlighted on the importance of adopting a good lifestyle with healthy habits to follow, and the villagers were extremely interested and accepting of what we had to say. At the end of the two-hour talk, we conducted a quiz session to test their knowledge and rewarded them with a small token for each correct answer. The participants were very cooperative and we all had fun when we ended the programme with a lucky draw. Of course, as it is tradition with every gathering, we ended the educational talk with group photography.
It was a long day, but we all knew it was worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears. It felt great to be able to share our knowledge and create awareness amongst the villagers and we felt that we made a difference. However, it was actually the encouragement of the villagers that kept motivating us and pushing us on. We started off with initial fears and reservations, but we were glad that this posting has been one of our most enriching and rewarding posting thus far. It was not an experience that could be measured by the marks we earned, but by the lives that we've changed amongst the villagers. It was a great reminder on why we embarked on this journey to be doctors in the first place - for the greater good of the people and their health and well-being.