People whom we can be

On Monday, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Tan Lai Yong. He had spent the past 15 years in Yunnan, providing medical advice to their state minorities. Make no mistake. With the education he received, he could be living a life of comfort in Singapore. He could have practiced medicine in a private hospital. He could have been pursuing wealth and prestige.

But he didn't. His family chose to live in the rural areas, to serve the broader community.

His presentation was incredible, varying between a comfortable coffee-shop camaraderie and moments of somber reflections.

Many children in the rural villages have physical deformities that made it hard for them to walk. They waddle, moving in a duck-like manner that would draw uninvited curiosity. Why weren't these defects detected at birth? Were the requisite techniques too expensive and challenging for the villagers to afford?

These deformities weren't detected simply because the diagnosis is free. All it took was to place the newborn face down and spring their legs apart. If their legs quickly moved back, the joints were in the sockets and everything was peaceable.

Local doctors, however, were reluctant to check - they fear being blamed for this inherent disability. They weren't paid anyway.

And do you have any idea what is the cost for correcting this deformity? Be prepared for an incredible answer. It was so brilliant that none of us would have guessed.

An extra diapers. All it requires is for the baby to wear an extra diapers for the next few years - there is a good 70 - 80 percent chance that the joint will pop back into the socket and a person, saved from a lifetime of waddling.

It was heartwarming to learn of his experiences, to know that there are people out there fighting for what they believe in.

But what struck me was a friend's response prior to the talk.

"Listening to such people only make me feel inferior."

A shadowy something draped over my vision.

These people existed not to make us fell inferior or helpless or banal, but to help us understand whom we can be.

Mr Louis Ng and his team at ACRES.

Dr Tan Lai Yong.

They let us know what can be.