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Just for the satisfaction of being a volunteer doctor
15 December 2005
by Dr. Tooraj Chamacham

Dr. Tooraj Chamacham, a UN Volunteer from Iran, talks to local people during an outreach programme in a community in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago in December 2004. (Photo: Claudia Pivaral/UN Volunteers)Dr. Tooraj Chamacham, a UN Volunteer from Iran, talks to local people during an outreach programme in a community in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago in December 2004. (Photo: Claudia Pivaral/UN Volunteers)
I can clearly remember when I was a child, listening to my grandfather's stories about the doctors who were actually called "hakim" many years ago in my home country. People revered them almost like holy persons as they played a very important role as consultants not only for medical and health problems, but also for people’s private life as well as community and political problems. They were real heroes for many people. May be the strong effects of these real stories and very sacred picture of a doctor that had been engraved in my mind became one of the most important motivating factors for me to be a doctor.

Today, in a UNV workshop we were told about what kinds of benefits the UNV programme and its doctors have brought to this country. There were many stories about their efforts, sorrows, happiness, conflicts and friendships that they have made or faced. We learned from the statistics about the progress that has been made, not only in terms of magnitude but in quality too, and about the challenges lying ahead. It was all amazing and encouraging for all of us and for UNV to know what they have done and what they have to do to move ahead further.

I started my work as a United Nations Volunteer in Trinidad and Tobago in October 2003. I was assigned to the Barataria Health Centre that is about five kilometres from Port of Spain to the east. I remember it was one of the very first days of my work that one old man who was attending the Chronic Disease Clinic came to me.

When I started to examine him, he told me, "Doctor, God bless you, doctor!" I was surprised: "Thanks, but I have done nothing for you yet!" He replied, "I am attending this clinic for more than 20 years and this is the first time a doctor is putting stethoscope on my chest!"

That was very sad. I was shocked, but then what I realised was some change was going to happen for them and this made my responsibilities even more important. Since that time, which was more than two years ago, I have tried to observe and learn. I have learnt how to be satisfied with whatever God gives me even though I am poor, how to be happy when I have untreatable disease, how to laugh while my heart is crying.

Doctors are so much respected here that the patients reverentially listen to them, obey them, and visit them in their best, clean and respectable clothes despite their severe poverty. Every new day, they are respecting me and believing in me more and more. This can be very satisfactory and at the same time fearful.

And again, I am reminded of the stories my grandfather told. Am I worthy enough to be a "hakim" for them? Am I teaching them as much as I am learning from them? May be my almighty God has given me this opportunity to be like those doctors who I was dreaming of and who have always been my best models and motivations. He wants to test me.

I recognize that I am very far from that level of humanity but just in reverence to what I got from these people and this opportunity which God gave me, I am trying to understand them if I am unable to do more than that, living with them, eating with them, sharing their happiness and crying with them.

What I have learnt from being a UNV doctor, despite all those promising or worrisome numbers, is to be satisfied being a UNV doctor. Just that.

(* Dr. Tooraj Chamacham is a UN Volunteer from Iran serving in Trinidad and Tobago.)