Project Light 3- Rendering 'Spa Therapy' to one of the Hmong granny during home visit.
It was the second house visit of the day.
A five-minute walk down a gradual dirt slope brought back memories of the previous trip when we encountered a young man bitten by a snake. The zinc-rooftop houses along the path remained very much the same. As we reached the second last house, we waited patiently before an aged, white-haired lady with a limp welcomed us. We entered the dimly lit house at the end of the path and were greeted by the smell of smoke as the Hmong people cook with charcoal in their houses. The house was not well ventilated and we could feel the heat immediately. Plates with leftover food were infested with flies and cutlery were left unwashed. The cemented floor appeared dusted as though the owner was expecting visitors.
She reappeared with stools for us to sit on. We gathered around the elderly. As a way of showing respect for the Hmong culture, the taller volunteers had to bend slightly so as to not be at a level ‘higher’ than her. The Hmong pastor started by asking how the villager had been doing. During any house visit, he would usually translate to Thai for our trip coordinator, Daryl, to translate to English for us. However, he was taking slightly longer with this elderly. With an awkward smile, he repeatedly pointed out the hearing aids that the lady had. The lady, without much eye contact throughout, continued to mumble to herself. We waited patiently for approximately ten minutes before Daryl informed us that the lady could not hear what the pastor was telling her.
The pastor then attempted to speak to the lady at a louder volume but nothing seemed to work. Communication barriers and hearing difficulties hindered us in providing the appropriate medical treatment to the lady. At that moment, we were lost and did not know how we could further help this lady. Since we could not take any medical or social history, it was beyond our means to provide medical aid to the lady. However, we were all still determined to make her day. As the saying goes, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is wasted.
We first removed her jacket as she was perspiring in the sweltering weather. Her footwear was also covered with mud. We then decided to give this lady a simple but much needed 'spa therapy'. One of our volunteers cleaned the lady's footwear while the rest of us massaged her weathered skin with moisturisers. We also offered her some food and juice. The lady then did something that took me by surprise; she touched me on my face and gave me an appreciative nod. I was taken aback as it is not usual for the Hmong to show their gratitude through such expressive gestures.
Tears started welling up my eyes as I bid her goodbye. I left with my heart so full. I was touched by the elderly’s gesture which was later explained by Daryl - she saw me as one of her own children. Indeed, our efforts were deeply appreciated by her.
Mother Teresa once said,
“We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world that is dying in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.”
As I reflected upon the trips that I had gone for, I realise that at times, medicine is not the cure to all diseases. Sometimes, the best cure is your presence; to be there to celebrate a moment of joy, share a moment of sorrow, and most importantly, to just listen. We were still able to make a difference in the lady's life through a simple act and her smile in exchange, was the best gift to us. Helping the Hmong villagers may have been the motivation behind these medical mission trips, but it has also helped me to grow as a person. The incident with the neglected lady struck me deeply as I was reminded of my own grandmother, whom I am guilty of not spending enough time with. It taught me that spending time with your loved ones is something that we should not take for granted as I realised that same time and effort I give to strangers are not being given to those closest to me back home.
Yu Ting is a registered nurse at a hospital in Singapore. She is a member of Project Light's committee, serving as the Honorary Secretary. She has participated in the medical mission trips with Radion International for the past three years. Being able to volunteer her medical expertise to help the community and also understand them gives her much satisfaction.