A LITTLE boy grew up in a family of five in a one-room rental flat in Toa Payoh. He was brought up by his grandmother while his parents went out to work.
They saved enough to support his medical studies. He was grateful to have made it with his average grades.
He had become a Christian and his reading of how God looks at the poor in terms of a “preferential option” fired his imagination. How apt that he had always felt that one of the noblest reasons for becoming a doctor is to serve the poor.
So he treated the poor like royalty whenever he saw them during his training in hospital. They formed a large pool of cases from whom he learned much.
He was happy to be able to give away expensive drug samples to those who could not afford them. He was touched by their clear displays of gratitude and their expressions of thankfulness.
When he started working in private clinics, he continued to experience the joy of waiving part of the fees for patients with empty wallets. But his employers shared no such satisfaction.
He realised he had to start his own practice. He chose to set up his clinic at Beo Crescent in the Bukit Ho Swee neighbourhood, and called it PWYCA – Pay What You Can Afford.
Throngs were soon paying a few dollars at his clinic for what would have normally cost several times more. But some of the poor were coming and going in taxis, flaunting mobile phones and flashing gold jewellery.
He closed PWYCA. Then he knocked on the doors of a family service centre near his clinic and struck a deal: any client accompanied by a social worker will be treated for a token $5.
It is a token because even the poor thinks that free treatment must be sub-standard. It is also to subsidise those who will not return for follow-up because they are embarrassed by their financial straits.
He has since formed a happy partnership with his social worker colleagues to help relieve the plight of many bound by poverty. They are caught in a destructive cycle of delinquency, gangsterism, drugs, chronic unemployment, physical and sexual abuse.
He volunteers at the social agency by conducting workshops and planning programmes for a multi-disciplinary approach to guide the down and out of society to recovery. He has roped in other medical care providers for the cause.
For the last nine years, he has been offering medical care at preferential rates to the needy while directly giving his time and services at the agency.
And for this, Dr Tan Poh Kiang was recently given the Humanitarian Volunteer of the Year 2005 Award from The Milk (Mainly I Love Kids) Fund by President S. R. Nathan. The fund aims to free children and youths from their social and economic disadvantages.
Dr Tan and his wife, Lie Joan, worship at Pentecost Methodist Church at the 11 am service, together with their 10-month-old daughter, Alexis. Their elder girl, Ella, five, is in Sunday School.
A member of Pentecost MC since 1983, he is actively involved in trips to COSI outside Phnom Penh, teaching at youth camps and the 17-Up Youth Ministry, giving health talks to Glowing Years Ministry (Gym) members and running health screening sessions from time to time.
The Church’s failure to follow Christ’s example in seeking to reach the struggling and suffering masses weighs heavily on his heart.
“In serving them, we will experience a form of spirituality that better reflects the life of the Lord,” he said. “Many of us want to serve but we are so caught up with the daily grind of career, family and other commitments that we have never risen above our intent.
“It is regrettable that over the years this has become the norm. The Church must lovingly insist that we need to walk our talk.”
He thinks that “many good, decent, sometimes very generous Christians always wishing they could do something for the poor must go out of their way to look for the equivalent of the lepers and prostitutes whom Jesus came for. Because they are not going to come to Pasir Ris Drive 6.”
He encourages us all to “do something by starting small and going slow. After all, we don’t know how many more days we will have this side of eternity”.
Lim Yeen Fong is the Church Manager of Pentecost Methodist Church.