Not long ago, I’ve visited a clinic in Tapah town and realized that I enjoyed seeing the orang asli (OA @ indigenous) children a lot. There are plenty of settlements scattered along the mountains bordering Tapah town and as a result, many of them seek medical treatment and earn their living in this town. When I sauntered into the night-market during my break, it was interesting to notice the rather unique items on sale. Instead of the normal ‘Made in China’ products we see in most night-markets, I see a lot of Made-in-Malaysia products…for example, wooden/rattan handicraft, beads, embroidered crafts and unusual herbs, spices and plants.
As I browse through the interesting items, I can’t help but observe the traders. A lot of them have very big smile but poor dental hygiene. I wonder how long it has been since they last went for a dental check-up. As I glanced at their skin, I was greeted with very darkly-pigmented, loose folds and brown, coarse hair. Some have very thin limbs but protuberant abdomen.
The same goes for children. The range of nutritional deficiency and childhood illnesses that we see is just the tip of the iceberg. The stark contrasts between urban children I see daily in KL, Ipoh or Teluk Intan and the little kids in Tapah OA settlement draws me to muse about my role in life and some of my forgotten dreams. The reason why I don’t want to be a paediatrician is because I cannot bear to see ill and dying children. I love to see them happy and running around healthy. Of course I can still be a paediatric surgeon but that is something to be considered for now.
Anyway, back to the OA children. As I see very few patients in my clinic, I actually had the luxury of taking detailed history from the parents so that I could go in depth into the children’s state of health. This is very different from the usual extra-hectic government hospitals and clinics and as a result, I could even find out about their diet, daily activities and practices.
I found out that most of them eat very simple food…cassava, legumes, wild plants, fish from the river and some poultry like chicken, duck, etc. The meat products are reserved for once a week or during festive occasion. Of course they consume clean water piped in from water collected high up in the mountain stream but some houses do not have electricity or a proper sewage system.
The older children attend school up to a certain age but life begins early and hard among these community. Some teenage girls marry early and have 3-4 children by the time they hit 21 year-old. Their husbands work very hard manual work until they are way past retirement age. The older children (>7 yr old) take care of their younger siblings while the parents work hard to bring food for their many children.
While life goes on in these communities as if it was 50 years ago, the rest of us chat via Wi-Fi at Starbucks, Coffee bean and etc, drive the latest Honda or Toyota cars and eat at the best restaurants in town. Yours truly have the luxury of blogging from a nice computer in an air-conditioned room while being well-fed daily. All this makes me feel very humble and grateful for all that I have as I ponder on how certain segments of the society live in abject poverty. As we celebrate another festive season, let us examine ourselves and begin to do something for others instead of being so inward-looking. Charity begins at home...