Ev­ery­day heroes

It’s hard enough to ne­go­ti­ate past life’s many ob­sta­cles, but some peo­ple ded­i­cate their lives to help­ing oth­ers in need.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By N. rAMA LO­HAN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

“JUST do it,” de­clared Mo­hamed Noor Suleiman, un­equiv­o­cal in his ad­vice to any­one con­sid­er­ing join­ing Mercy Malaysia. He should know the re­wards. Af­ter all, he has spent five years with the non- profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, which fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing med­i­cal relief, sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and risk ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties for vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties in both cri­sis and non- cri­sis sit­u­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to him, be­ing with Mercy has taught him the price­less les­son of be­ing hum­ble and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the value of life. And in the course of his work, he has saved many, but sadly, he has also wit­nessed nu­mer­ous deaths. They are al­ways the lowest points in this line of work, but the dis­ap­point­ments merely spur the suc­cesses.

Suleiman, who works in the safety and se­cu­rity in­dus­try, got into Mercy when he be­gan feel­ing the need to do more for the hu­man race. “I wanted to con­trib­ute on a larger scale and in a more ef­fec­tive way,” he re­vealed dur­ing the re­cent an­nounce­ment of Mercy’s fund- rais­ing char­ity run, In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Run, themed “Run Like A Su­per­hero”.

The 55- year- old, a core vol­un­teer and co- rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the state of Jo­hor, serves the Safety, Se­cu­rity & Lo­gis­tics depart­ment. The work the depart­ment does in­volves med­i­cal and non- med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

“Lo­gis­tics forms the back­bone of Mercy. It plays a key role in mak­ing sure the mis­sion is ready, and we have to come up with the fastest and best way to pull it off,” he said. A key com­po­nent of the job scope in­cludes tak­ing care of the well- be­ing of the vol­un­teers and as­sets, which in­cludes med­i­cal sup­plies, medicine, tents and more.

Al­though Suleiman is not a para­medic, he is a cer­ti­fied EMR ( emer­gency med­i­cal re­spon­dent), which means he has learned ad­vanced first aid. “Dur­ing emer­gen­cies, our job is to take care of the lo­gis­tics, but when med­i­cal per­son­nel are lack­ing, we are some­times called upon to at­tend to the in­jured as well.”

His work has al­lowed the fa­ther- of- three to wit­ness all man­ner of de­struc­tion and dev­as­ta­tion, from the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan ( 2013) to the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in Nepal last year, but Ke­lan­tan’s floods ( 2014) were the most daunt­ing he’s had to deal with.

“See­ing your own coun­try­men suf­fer is some­thing else en­tirely. We had some relief work­ers who had served in Acheh af­ter the tsunami who said the de­struc­tion in Ke­lan­tan looked sim­i­lar,” he said, de­scrib­ing the mag­ni­tude of the dev­as­ta­tion.

The con­di­tion of the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings wasn’t the worst of it all. Hu­man suf­fer­ing apart, Suleiman also found him­self in the throes of hu­man con­flict, a nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence dur­ing a cri­sis situation, when emo­tions run high and ev­ery­one is highly- strung.

While dis­tribut­ing sup­plies to a vil­lage ( which in­cluded brooms and brushes for clean up work, and ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like clothes and blan­kets), a res­i­dent from a neigh­bour­ing vil­lage came up to him de­mand­ing aid. Sud­denly, parangs were drawn by the vil­lager he was speak­ing to and the out­sider. In­stead of at­tempt­ing to quell the situation, Suleiman made the wise choice of with­draw­ing in a bid to main­tain neu­tral­ity. The situation was set­tled when calmer heads from both camps pre­vailed.

Wit­ness­ing the hu­man suf­fer­ing first- hand is not for the faint- hearted, and few can stom­ach deal­ing with such atroc­i­ties.

Suleiman re­layed a heart- break­ing story of when he was on Leyte Is­land in the Philip­pines, where he served his long­est mis­sion – a month.

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan’s havoc, he no­ticed a pa­tient who was brought into the hospital, but was wait­ing in line for his turn to re­ceive treat­ment. “When he was brought out, he was on a wheel­chair cov­ered in a white cloth. I thought he was in­jured and needed pro­tec­tion from the sun light, but I then found out that he had died,” he re­lated solemnly.

The in­jured aren’t the only vic­tims of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter – the aged, es­pe­cially those with health con­di­tions and re­quire sched­uled doses of med­i­ca­tion, are just as sus­cep­ti­ble. Heart and kid­ney pa­tients, and high blood pres­sure suf­fer­ers, for ex­am­ple, all need to ad­here to their med­i­ca­tion tim­ings, and when their sup­plies are lost in the car­nage of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, this puts them in the high risk group of ca­su­al­ties, too.

Relief work­ers are no less im­mune to the haz­ards of cri­sis sit­u­a­tions. Many of them risk life and limb to save the next soul. Suleiman found him­self in a dire situation when, while in Nepal, just af­ter the first quake, he ex­pe­ri­enced the sec­ond, which mea­sured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

“My head felt light, and I felt like I was spin­ning. I saw lamp and tele­phone poles sway­ing side­ways and for­wards and back­wards, too ... it was a fright­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­fore I knew it, a col­league lit­er­ally shouted in my ear to run.”

And run­ning for shel­ter in such sit­u­a­tions is all about know­ing where to go. Suleiman’s job scope also in­cludes map­ping out the safest route for relief work­ers to evac­u­ate a cri­sis situation.

“We have an SOP for exit strat­egy. When we ar­rive at a cri­sis lo­ca­tion, we as­sess the sur­round­ings and map out he safest route out in case of emer­gency,” he ex­plained, re­veal­ing that he gets the driv­ers of the mis­sion ve­hi­cles to park in a way that pro­vides re­sis­tant- free exit.

Like­wise, relief work­ers are not ex­empt from emo­tional trauma ei­ther, which is why Mercy Malaysia also has psy­choso­cial med­i­cal per­son­nel on hand to pro­vide coun­selling or to sim­ply lend an ear for both relief work­ers and con­flict vic­tims.

Given the kind of phys­i­cal and emo­tional trauma mis­sion work­ers can be ex­posed to, Mercy’s vol­un­teers are all re­quired to at­tend Ba­sic Mis­sion Train­ing ( BMT). “We ex­pose ju­nior vol­un­teers to worse- case- sce­nar­ios. In the course, we teach them to ex­pect the un­ex­pected, which we hope will get them to work as a team, and to be in sync with the seniors,” he said, out­lin­ing the nuts and bolts of BMT.

Chal­lenges abound for vol­un­teers, but ul­ti­mately, each of them is ex­pected to ad­here to Mercy’s man­date of deal­ing in a cri­sis situation. These chal­lenges come in the form of trans­port, lo­ca­tion and, of course, lo­gis­tics. “Some­times, it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute our du­ties based on the man­date ... there are con­straints from the law of the land, re­li­gious sen­si­tiv­i­ties ... all kinds of things,” he said.

As daunt­ing as this all seems, Suleiman has drawn great sat­is­fac­tion from do­ing what he does – serv­ing the greater good. He gives cre­dence to the old adage: heroes are made, not born.

the Mercy Malaysia In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian run kicks off at 7am on May 1 at Padang Mer­bok, Kuala Lumpur. to regis­ter on­line, visit www. webprojx. com/ mymer­cyrun or check out www. mercy. org. my for more info. For fur­ther de­tails, call Mercy Malaysia ( 03- 2142 2007).

Mo­hamed noor suleiman, a vol­un­teer with Mercy Malaysia, served in nepal fol­low­ing the killer earth­quake last year. — sA­MUeL OnG/ The star

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