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NEWS : Inspiring Individuals : Teddy Bear Doctor and EcoKnights founder Yasmin Rasyid empowering communities in their own way

Articles, Blog /

PETALING JAYA, December 8 —  Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugam or fondly known as the Teddy Bear Doctor, is known for taking to the streets to treat underprivileged communities unable to afford proper medical treatment.

As he goes the extra mile to help those in need, another heroic figure — biologist and founder of EcoKnights Yasmin Rasyid has been empowering communities with sustainable projects.

Both of them are featured in Dutch Lady’s recent campaign ‘Strong Me, Stronger Us’ as they have been organising treatments and activities to help communities through sharing their expertise and experiences.

This is in line with the campaign’s mission to enhance a more united community by encouraging Malaysians to seek strength from each other especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reaching out to those in need

Dr Madhusudhan started his own mobile clinic in 2015 where he treats underprivileged communities in Kuala Lumpur after his work hours in his clinic located in Cheras.

‘Teddy Bear Doctor’ was a name given by his younger patients because he would give them teddy bears during his visits.

The Alor-Setar-born doctor is helped by a team of volunteer doctors who would take to the streets focusing on Jalan Hang Lekiu and Pusat Transit Gelandangan Kuala Lumpur.

“Our mobile clinic that operates every Wednesday has four main sections which are registration, blood pressure check and sugar check up, doctor’s consultation and pharmacy dispensary.

“The homeless communities are familiar with our presence as they would usually wait till we arrive for us to treat them coupled with a dressing team that takes care of the wounded cases in the city.”

He said that medical care is also provided for orphanages and old folks homes in Klang Valley while weekends are reserved to conduct medical camps at refugee schools and low cost flats.

He assembled his group of volunteers consisting of those with medical and non-medical backgrounds after many heard about his mobile clinic including fresh medical graduates who were waiting for their housemanship position.

The seed of helping the underprivileged started when Dr Madhusudhan was much younger, in his father’s clinic where he observed his father treating people in the villages who were poor.

“I was so used to seeing my father who was a doctor charging the village people very little for their treatment — sometimes none at all.

“And one image that still lingers in my mind is their happy faces after being treated inspired me to follow in my dad’s footsteps of becoming a doctor someday,” he said.

Building connections 

Approaching the marginalised groups of people on a weekly basis was something that Dr Madhusudhan and his team had to work on to build trust.

“It’s interesting to note that for some of them, all they needed was someone to talk to — and we have helped them in many ways even by connecting them to job opportunities.

“For some of the communities, it actually took us several months to forge relationships with them and to make them understand that what we were doing was going to be on a regular basis as compared to just a one off thing.”

Dr Madhusudhan shared that his non-governmental organisation (NGOs) together with others are probably the only hope for the homeless, and underprivileged communities.

“While they are allowed to seek help from government hospitals, many are afraid to be looked down by the public when seen in public spaces.

“And what we do just doesn’t stop at providing medical healthcare as we provide groceries so that they can eat healthily and lead a beneficial lifestyle.”

Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic however, Dr Madhusudhan and his team are unable to take to the streets to conduct their mobile clinic on Wednesday nights

“For now, I go out to help once a week on cases that are being referred to other NGOs or these communities are brought to my clinic in Cheras for free treatment.”

Sustainable projects 

Yasmin Rasyid is a biologist and founder of EcoKnights —  an NGO that aims to assist communities in areas of sustainable development, has been very involved in sustainable projects for the community.

The Ipoh-born biologist, 45, is currently holding a strategic position in guiding the NGO towards community development projects.

Some of the programmes that are currently being held include Project Vocal — a collaboration between Unicef and United Nations to address the issue of climate change and run by youths and ‘Trees of Life’ which is a tree planting programme.

“We have our digital educational platform known as School of Sustainability (SOS) that offers a plethora of information regarding community based learning programmes on sustainability.”

Lessons from her grandmother

Inspired by her grandmother, the biologist said that some of the experiences still ingrained in her mind include her grandmother’s habit of not wasting food.

“Food leftovers were either recreated into other dishes or her way of recycling the food items.

“And she was always pottering in the garden — and we had many fruit trees — as a result of her working on her plants with her neighbours.”

Yasmin shared that there was one time when she came back home and noticed a number of elderly women in the kitchen learning how to cook a simple dish from her grandmother.

“As such, I was exposed to the innovations I learnt from home that have moulded me into strengthening my sustainability efforts to people beyond my family and close friends.”

She is working concurrently with her team in either providing inputs into operations, management or ideations.

The 45-year-old said that it is important to be aware of sustainability and ways to tackle it so that it gives us a better understanding of how human activities impact the environment.

“Rather than pointing fingers at those who do open burning or pollute, we should look at ourselves and see whether we are maintaining our environment.

“Are we throwing our curries down the drain or not separating our trash from recyclable items?

“Thus, self-awareness is critical as it just doesn’t boil down to how aware we should be of other people but being aware of ourselves and our actions,” she said.