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Fulfilling Flood Relief Missions: Through the Lens of MERCY Malaysia Volunteers

In early January 2021, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) received an urgent call from MERCY Malaysia, seeking for support to deploy hygiene, cleaning and primary healthcare kits as well as to mobilise medical and non-medical volunteers for flood relief missions in several affected states across Malaysia. A total of 300 volunteers from MERCY State Chapters in Terengganu, Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak were mobilised to support relief operations. Two medical volunteers who joined the flood response mission in Johor, shared with YSD their experiences in this story. 

AFTER natural disasters strike a community, many victims would feel that they have fallen through the cracks of recovery efforts. In these dreadful times, volunteers are the unsung heroes who help fill in these cracks in various capacities. At a moment’s notice, they swoop in to assist and care for vulnerable community members, as well as to help them restore and rebuild their lives.

Hailing from Ipoh, Perak, Sockalingam A/L Thanimalay has a 38-year healthcare experience under his belt, having last served as a senior assistant medical officer. Throughout his service, he had always gone above and beyond to care for the well-being of those in need of medical help.

The 64-year old is certainly no stranger to humanitarian and volunteering work, having joined MERCY Malaysia (MM) as a volunteer back in 2004. “I have been sent to many missions to help victims of natural disasters in Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal and Philippines as well as to help refugees in Bangladesh, Lebanon and Palestine. In fact, I have lost count of the number of humanitarian aid missions I joined so far,” he shared.
Sockalingam providing medical consultation to a flood victim.
Sockalingam providing medical consultation to a flood victim.

Being an illustrious medical volunteer, Sockalingam does not plan to stop joining relief missions anytime soon. In early January 2021, Sockalingam received a call from MM Johor Chapter and without hesitance, he agreed to join yet another flood relief mission. This time, he was deployed along with other teammates to Johor to provide humanitarian aid to flood-affected families.

“After reporting to Klinik Kesihatan Kahang Batu 22, Kluang, my teammates and I were instructed to manage the temporary relief centres (PPS) under the clinic’s jurisdiction at SK Seri Bukut and SMK Kahang, where we managed to treat 25 cases altogether. We provided medical relief utilising primary healthcare kits that was sponsored by YSD and risk reduction activities for vulnerable communities.

“On the second day, we were scheduled to carry out our duties at an Orang Asli settlement at Kg Sengkang but heavy downpour thwarted our mission as high tide and flooding closed all the routes to the destination,” he recalled, adding that he was part of the mission for nearly a week from 5th to 10th of January.

Having treated many patients who were flood victims, Sockalingam said many of them face both physical and emotional injuries on top of the loss of physical possessions and income sources. These effects are further worsened by COVID-19 pandemic concerns which are felt by all levels of society.

“Flood victims may not only suffer physical complications but also experience psychosocial and mental health impacts which include psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, it is our duty to provide them with only emergency medical responses but also rehabilitation and recovery, mitigation and prevention, as well as disaster preparedness knowledge” he said.
Sockalingam has carved volunteering memories in precarious places such as in Karachi, Pakistan and in Beirut, Lebanon. After taking part in so many disaster relief missions locally and abroad, Sockalingam deemed every mission as challenging and unique.

“It is important to have strong physical and mental abilities while on duty as volunteers. Apart from that, I believe that the key to all the successful missions is teamwork. It promotes an atmosphere that fosters more than just friendships and loyalty. Only by working together, we can achieve greater heights,” he shared.

Sockalingam always returns home after missions with a heart filled with joy and thankfulness to have had the privilege of helping other fellow humans. Touched by the trust and gratitude of those he had helped, volunteering is truly a platform he will forever hold dear to his heart.

“I am also immensely grateful to MERCY Malaysia and President Dato' Dr. Ahmad Faizal for all the opportunities given to me. I am also thankful to fellow dedicated officers and volunteers, my beloved wife as well as family and friends for their continuous support throughout my journey as a volunteer,” he said, adding that he is also grateful for YSD’s support on procuring hygiene and primary healthcare kits for the mission.
Sockalingam distributing YSD-sponsored hygiene kits to flood victims with his teammates.
Nordiyana Yusoff had to wait for over 3 years before she could finally join a mission with MERCY Malaysia. The 30-year old nurse had signed up to be a medical volunteer in 2017 but career and family commitments would not permit her intention to go on the ground. But in early January this year, she wasted no time in saying yes to joining a flood response mission in Johor.

“A lot of things went through my mind during the journey down to Johor, but I was more nervous because I have never been a medical volunteer during a natural disaster, much less during a pandemic,” she said.

Diyana and 7 of her teammates departed Kuala Lumpur to Johor and were then divided into two groups – one stationed in Kahang and another (her team) deployed to Kota Tinggi. “When we got there, floods have subsided and some evacuees have returned to their homes but there were a few relief centres that were still open,” she recollected.

“Over the course of 2 days, we managed to treat 30 patients at 5 different flood relief centres. We attended to evacuees who came to do general health screening and found that some had skin problems and high blood pressure. We also had to refer some patients to the hospital due to their chronic conditions. For example, we had to send a diabetic patient to the hospital as he was deprived of insulin shots for a week,” she added.

“I also treated a senior citizen who is a kidney failure patient. It was heart-warming to see his son sticking by his ailing father at the relief centre. At the same time, I could only sympathise with the predicament of being displaced due to the floods,” she shared.

Diyana’s message to all Malaysians during this pandemic: “Practise the 3Ws and 3Cs!”

Diyana believes both working as a nurse and as a medical volunteer pose occupational hazards. At work, the patients would be screened before she attended to them but as a MERCY volunteer, she had to treat patients who would have pre-existing health conditions that she was not aware of.

“But it’s all in a day’s work and there are no compromises when it comes to abiding by the standard operating procedures (SOPs). We were equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times when on duty,” she emphasised.

If given another chance to volunteer with MM, Diyana would grab the chance in a heartbeat. “When my schedule allows it, I join another mission because I find the experience truly humbling and it gives me peace of heart, which I find therapeutic. It also gives me a satisfaction that words cannot describe”.

As a dedicated frontliner, Diyana hopes her fellow Malaysians would help the government in reducing COVID-19 cases by staying at home and complying with all the SOPs in place. She said every individual plays an important role to decrease the numbers and flatten the curve.

“My message to all Malaysians is to practise the 3Cs of avoiding crowded places, confined spaces and close conversations; as well as the 3Ws — wash hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitisers, wear a mask and warn each other about social distancing,” she reminded.

Diyana and her teammates in KL before departing to Johor.

Yayasan Sime Darby allocates RM2 million annually for its Disaster Relief Fund, in line with its commitment to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and marginalised, as well as to reduce socio-economic disparities. YSD had tripled this allocation in the 2020/2021 financial year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst flooding the country has faced in half a century. With a total sponsorship of RM753,500, YSD’s most recent flood relief missions deployed 6,000 hygiene kits, 2 sets of cleaning kits and 3 sets of primary healthcare kits, as well as mobilised medical and non-medical volunteers to aid flood victims in Johor and Pahang.

MERCY Malaysia volunteers distributing YSD-sponsored hygiene kits at Kg. Orang Asli Cahaya Baru, Pasir Gudang, Johor.
On 16 January 2021, MERCY Malaysia distributed 246 hygiene kit sets to flood victims in Pekan Pahang.
On 12 January 2021, 65 sets of hygiene kits were distributed by MERCY Malaysia to flood victims in Kuala Krai, Kelantan.
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Last Updated:
25 Feb 2021
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