Angie Sun Ho-yan is a firm believer that knowledge feeds your mind, and she says helping people in need brings you experiences that can never be replaced by what you can read in a book. The graduate of MSocSc (Gerontology) recognises there are often complaints about the medical system in Hong Kong, but a visit to rural Mainland China provided her with perspective. In summer 2008, Angie joined a service-learning trip to Shantau, and came away with some interesting observations of the medical systems here and there.
After four years of psychology training in Australia, I came back to Hong Kong to further my study in Gerontology (the scientific study of the process of ageing). My studies provided me with a good knowledge of my discipline, but I lacked the chance to practise my knowledge in the real community. Therefore, I decided to join a service-learning trip.
BLISS was a stimulating and eye-opening trip to me, and it challenged my thinking in various ways. It also helped me reflect on what I have learned from my studies. In a week of staying in Shantou, our team visited the local villagers who were living in an environment of poverty. On a hot and stuffy day, we went for voluntary consultations into one of the poorest villages. Before we entered the village, the residents had already all lined up at the entrance to welcome us. They were so thankful to have the voluntary medical team there to serve them. One lady told me that they had waited for two hours for us to arrive. They had worn their best-looking clothes to see the doctors - the medical crew was a blessing and an honour for them.
This is very different from what we think in Hong Kong. Here, we have forgotten that our stable and comprehensive medical system was formed through many people's sweat, and through generations of reform and modification. Our system will never be perfect, since there is always room for improvement. However, does our society know how to be thankful for the efforts made by many people instead of simply adopting a blaming culture?
The Medical Aid for the Poor crew was filled with a passion to serve the villagers, and they listened to patients' symptoms carefully in the confined, stuffy village hall. But it was packed with people, and the patients were making so much noise that the doctors said they could not even take pulses properly. Our HKU team was trying to help, but since we did not know how to speak their local language, we failed to communicate with the patients properly.
Then our teammates saw there was a pot of chrysanthemum tea, and we collected some cups and served the patients who lined up. We discovered that the cup of tea was a good bridge in connecting with the patients. Their impatience seemed to ease for a bit and they become less noisy. I realised the first step in serving people is to understand what they need at that moment, even if it is just a cup of tea. We do not need to always think big to help.
The trip rekindled the fire in my heart for helping people. By understanding the medical system in China villages, I now have a better knowledge of their culture and development. It is not about what you can give, it is about what they need.
The trip also helped me to explore my personal goals and refine my career direction. I am thankful for the experience and the opportunity to reflect my practice towards the needs of people. I am now working as a research co-ordinator in the Centre on Behavioural Health of HKU to help rebuild the communities devastated by the earthquake in Sichuan, walking hand-in-hand with them in the shadow of their trauma.
Angie Sun Ho-yan