Travel has given a whole new meaning for three families who volunteer, trading posh hotel stays and theme parks for mission trips in far-flung corners of the world.
A Holiday For Good
Dr Claudine Pang, 38, is a consultant ophthalmologist and medical director at Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, and Aaron Tan, 38, is lead data architect at Singapore Exchange. They have two kids, Nathanael, six, and Sophie, three.
As a young doctor, helping the less fortunate who have no access to medical care has always been on the forefront of Dr Claudine Pang’s mind. It was also one of the reasons she pursued a medical degree.
Armed with her medical skills and knowledge, the 38-year-old ophthalmologist has volunteered in rural areas in Sri Lanka, China and Cambodia, where she conducts eye health screenings, treats eye diseases and performs sight-saving cataract surgery.
Now a mum of two kids aged six and three, Dr Pang hopes that her passion for overseas mission volunteer work will rub off on her little ones. She recently started a private practice at Paragon Medical Suites and will be volunteering her time overseas more regularly.
“I’ve always returned home enriched by these experiences, and the acute awareness that there are much more important issues in life, apart from those we face at home. I hope to inculcate this habit of volunteering in my children from a young age so that they may appreciate the meaning behind it and grow up to do the same on their own accord,” says Dr Pang, medical director of Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre.
For a start, she took her kids to Siem Reap, Cambodia, in March. They were among the eight families who participated in the Holiday for Hope programme, a pilot project between Operation Hope Foundation and social enterprise Crib Society that aims to help charities become sustainable by enabling them to raise their own long-term fundraising capabilities.
There, they distributed clothes and shoes to students from a local primary school and interacted with them. Donor families contribute funds that go towards building a well, toilets, electrical wiring which will help enable digital learning, as well as a playground for the school, which houses nearly 300 children between the ages of four and 12.
Dr Pang shares that she was motivated to personally deliver the clothes and shoes, which she gathered via a donation drive, to the village after learning that the local children usually go barefoot and that donations sent by sea or air freight may be hijacked by corrupt officials.
“I got my kids involved in packing their own used clothes and shoes for the children. They were surprisingly very enthusiastic to donate their stuff and happy that they could contribute to the less fortunate,” she says.
Nathanael and Sophie took well to their new environment, although their grandparents and some friends initially expressed concerns about safety issues such as food-borne diseases, insect bites and political unrest.
“They were enthusiastic to see all the new sights. It was a real eye-opener for them because it looks nothing like what we are used to at home,” Dr Pang shares.
Besides seeing first-hand what a village house looked like, complete with farm animals, the children also tried food from street stalls, such as traditional sticky date rice and coconut juice straight from the husk, and hiked through the steep temple ruins at the Beng Malea temple, among other activities.
The most unforgettable part of the trip for her older child, Nathanael, was befriending one of the students, even though they do not speak the same language. “Just before he left, the girl said bye to him. He told me he liked her very much,” she says.
Dr Pang plans to have her kids travel with her for an upcoming medical mission to another village in Siem Reap in Cambodia at the end of the year, where she will perform cataract surgery and provide general eye screening for about 150 school children.
“I am thinking of bringing them so that they will be able to interact with the local school children there and help give out a pair of sunglasses for every child, which we managed to obtain through sponsorship from Essilor Vision Foundation,” she says.
The best bit about such trips for her is spending time with the family while doing something meaningful for someone else. She plans to organise more of such meaningful journeys for families in the future.
Despite his tender age, her son has already learnt invaluable life lessons from his recent trip. “After the trip to Cambodia, my son told me: ‘Mummy, I don’t need so many toys anymore because the children there have no toys but they are still happy’,” Dr Pang shares.