Posted:1:22 AM (Manila Time) | Mar. 31, 2002
By Maria Cecil B. Laguardia
Inquirer News Service
HE is often asked: “Aren’t you afraid of getting kidnapped in Mindanao?” He just answers with a smile and an unaffected shrug as if to say it’s not fated, it won’t happen.
Tugging a baggage of medical instruments, he walked confidently at the Davao International Airport, unmindful of the raging newspaper headlines about Mindanao around him. He looked at home.
At this time when foreigners avoid Mindanao like a plague, Dr. Angamuthu “Anga” Rajoo of Johor Bahru, Malaysia, flew back to Koronadal City in South Cotabato via Davao City to fulfill a promise.
He was to conduct a follow-up operation on Grace, a severely burned girl whom he first operated on last year.
Grace, an Ilongga from Koronadal, was burned in the face and the whole body when she was a baby. She pulled a tablecloth with a gas lamp on it.
A bright girl, she ignored her classmates’ teasing and continued her schooling. Her persistence and sunny disposition have been reinforced after meeting Anga, who gave her hope by operating on her physical deformity.
For three straight years, the doctor kept coming back until her condition improved.
Anga’s wife Umadevi, a nurse, is worried, of course, what with stories about war in the Philippines that are often seen on the front pages of newspapers and splashed on TV screens. But Anga trusts his Filipino friends regarding his safety.
Three years ago, Anga, a member of the Rotary Club of Johor Bahru and one of the 30 renowned plastic and cosmetic surgeons in Malaysia, went with a team of doctors to Koronadal to conduct free harelip and cleft palate operations as part of a medical mission.
The activity was arranged by Oliver Hennedige, past president of the Rotary Club of Singapore which is a sister club of the Rotary Club of Marbel, through the Rotary’s World Community Service program.
In Koronadal, Anga met Grace whose badly deformed face and body touched his heart. A series of operations have to be done to remedy her situation and he kept returning, at his own personal expense, to operate on her. His Rotary club also pitched in to shoulder his travel and other surgical expenses.
Since then, Anga’s life has been intertwined with those of members of RC Marbel whom he now considers “a family.” He was amazed at how such a small club of 36 members can become a band of community workers concerned with the plight of harelip and cleft palate patients.
Close bonding was developed between him and club past president Fred dela Peña, president Puyot Calixton, incoming president Rolan Alajar and vice president Roland Asperga. Mixing community service with jokes and fun has prompted him to look forward to his next trips in the country.
One downside of his stay is that it continues to amaze (and shock) him how drivers maneuver their vehicles on the road. “I would never drive in this country,” he says with exasperation.
Referring to the tricycles that abound in Koronadal, he commented that “there are so many motor cabs here.” In Malaysia, he said, public conveyance is composed mainly of mass transport vehicles, like buses, taxis and trains to minimize traffic jams.
He commends the active participation of the Anns (spouses of Rotarians) who took time from their businesses and offices to give support for two days during Grace’s operation, and program chair Dr. Benjamin Pajaro, an ENT specialist, for “doing a good job and organizing the program so well.”
Together with Dr. Pajaro, the club’s chair on the Adopt-A-Harelip Program, Dr. Camilo Dajay, Dr. Dale Ello and Dr. Reuel Magan, they were able to operate on 14 patients from South Cotabato and neighboring provinces.
A hard worker who wants to make full use of his time, Anga was able to complete nine surgeries in 14 hours non-stop. When asked how he did it, he simply said, “I love to work.”
His competence and expertise were admired by staff members of the Lourdes Clinic and Hospital, where the operation took place. He is very humble, friendly and accommodating, but is very strict and exact in the operating room. The doctors who assisted him felt privileged to have learned from him.
The Adopt-A-Harelip Program of RC Marbel has been going on for the past 15 years as its flagship program. Hundreds of harelip patients have become beneficiaries of the program.
For this year, a matching grant from the Rotary International, through the help of the Rotary Club of Singapore, was approved and released, thus enabling the club to accommodate more patients who cannot afford the operation, much less the services of specialists, which amount to about 20,000 pesos.
Anga’s life is as remarkable as his achievements. He came from a “very poor” family of Tamils (a tribe from India). From a small town of Tamil Nadu, his grandparents moved to the town of Kajang in Selangor province in Malaysia and worked in rubber plantations.
With seven brothers and sisters, he grew up working as a laborer in plantations. Without encouragement from anybody, he realized he wanted to go to school and finish a degree. He just had enough of the poverty that his family had endured for generations.
“It just occurred to me that I should get an education,” he said.
Under the government’s free education program, he breezed through school and proceeded to pursue a medical degree at the prestigious University of Malaysia. After completing the course, he specialized in plastic and cosmetic surgery at the Royal Adelaide University in Australia for another three years.
He worked as a government employee for 10 years and moved on to private practice. He now has his own clinic in Johor Bahru and is active in promoting education among poor Indian children.
He joins other international projects of his club and is scheduled to go to Sri Lanka and Sabah in Malaysia for a medical mission.
Marbel Rotarians are proud to have known Anga. His concern for Grace and the rest of the burn patients, as well as the harelip and cleft palate patients, more than makes him a Filipino at heart.
His compassion and determination to help beyond geographical barriers are matched by his name. In Tamil, “Anga” means “body” and “Muthu” means “pearl.” This easily translates to someone who is firm enough to achieve his dreams and pure enough to serve.
Writing through e-mail from Johor Bahru, he said, “Not many people will get an opportunity to be of service to the many unfortunate patients, but I am one of the lucky ones, thanks to your club. I hope to be able do continue doing it.”
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