|Ten Years of Healing|
|A TIMA doctor|
|What keeps them going?|
The above are just a few examples of how TIMA is working to improve lives around the world. This organization of volunteer medical professionals is now entering its second decade, and while its approaches have evolved over the years, one thing remains constant: its resolve to provide free medical care and hope to the needy in all corners of the world.
In August, the Tzu Chi Jakarta branch held its 51st free clinic in Singkawang, a community located on the western side of West Kalimantan Province in Indonesia. One of the locals taking advantage of the free medical care was 55-year-old Jong Thian Kong. He held the hand of his wife, Ratifah, as volunteers checked her in for a follow-up appointment. She had lost her sight 14 years before to cataracts, and she had undergone surgery just the day before to remove them. While there, Jong also had to help his two daughters, also suffering from cataracts, receive the same surgery.
Jong was the first person that Ratifah wanted to see when the bandages over her eyes were removed. She could hardly wait to see him again! But when the bandages were finally removed and Ratifah looked at her husband, she could hardly believe her eyes. The man looking back at her seemed like a stranger, a far cry from the husband that she had pictured in her mind's eye for the past 14 years. Ratifah wondered what might have changed his looks so dramatically.
Laboring on the farm to provide for his family and tending to their daily needs had taken a visible toll on Jong. After all, he alone had cared for his entire family since his daughters had lost their sight more than a decade before. He now had many more wrinkles and far fewer teeth than his wife remembered. "Is this really you, Jong?" Ratifah murmured.
Jong's family story was depicted in a video clip presented at the annual TIMA conference held in September 2008 in Hualien, Taiwan. The attendees, more than 300, were deeply moved as they watched the gift of sight being restored to the family. At the same time, their joy for the trio's cure was muted by the knowledge that the family had suffered unnecessarily and for so long at the hands of a minor medical condition. They knew that if the family had lived elsewhere, they could have been cured a lot sooner.
TIMA--A well-oiled model of compassion
Dr. Lin Chin-Lon (林俊龍), convenor of TIMA, succinctly summed up members responsibilities in a speech during their annual conference in September: "Access to medical care is every person's right, and it mustn't become the exclusive province of the rich. We at TIMA intend to bring medical care to those who need it, wherever they may be."
The association celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. It is now based in 58 locations in 11 countries. Over the years, more than 6,000 volunteer medical professionals have provided free medical services in more than 1.4 million patient visits (or 140,000 patient visits a year). To put this statistic in perspective, a typical 700-bed major teaching hospital in the United States might have 60,000 70,000 patient visits in its emergency department in a year.
TIMA physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and medical technologists are supported behind the scenes by a large group of capable volunteers. These volunteers provide the indispensable services that make any field clinic run smoothly. Time and again the medical and non-medical teams make for a potent combination that enables effective clinics to relieve the needy of their suffering.
TIMA free clinics offer other services in addition to performing those services normally found in a typical clinic. Advance teams choose suitable patients before the clinics to receive TIMA's precious but limited resources; a logistics team transports medical equipment and pharmaceuticals from place to place or between countries, and then sets up treatment areas and routes; and there are methodical but personable ways to track and bring patients back for follow-up visits.
Dr. Zhou Yoo-cheng (趙有誠), superintendent of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, recently returned from a TIMA free clinic held for cyclone victims in Myanmar. He understands that there is a limit to what any individual, however capable and loving, can do. But he also appreciates that an individual's ability to contribute is greatly enhanced as a volunteer on a TIMA mission. This is because the tried and true association model minimizes the snags that take time and resources away from patient care. Each clinic runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. Since each mission is so organized and methodical, the medical professionals are freed from worrying about the operational logistics and can focus on doing their utmost to help patients.
The evolution of TIMA
As TIMA's membership expands, so does the scope of its services. It has worked out the kinks and has become very proficient in offering mobile clinics, and it now offers services in more specialties than ever before. As part of this evolution, the association is also offering more services in the area of preventive care. This is having a profound impact on patients' lives. In fact, preventive care was the predominant theme of this year's conference in Hualien. Knowing that a sensible lifestyle can go a long way toward warding off disease, association members want to stop diseases before they have a chance to start.
In addition to expanding the scope of services, each TIMA chapter has evolved to specifically meet the unique needs of each local population that it serves. In Taiwan, for example, medical resources are quite accessible to most citizens because most people have medical insurance through the national government. Thus, TIMA members in Taiwan have been able to expand their services to include wellness check-ups, awareness education, and consultations. These are all in the realm of health maintenance and illness prevention.
Of course, TIMA in Taiwan continues to offer the "traditional" services that it has offered in the last decade to the needy. These are people that live on the geographic or financial fringes of society. They are the homeless wandering on the streets, the bodily disabled, the mentally challenged, or people in transition. They exist in Taiwan as they do in any other countries, rich or poor.
In Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States, Tzu Chi offers permanent free clinics or dialysis centers where the poor can obtain free services regularly year round. If need be, these TIMA clinics can draw on the facilities and wealth of expertise of the six Tzu Chi hospitals in Taiwan. Over the years, some of the more complicated cases have been referred to Tzu Chi hospitals in Taiwan.
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