SAF military expert recalls her experience during Nepal relief efforts

The scene in Nepal was one of blood and gore, but it was the tears that got to her.

Military Expert 1 (ME1) Shorini Dhurgha, 24, was deployed by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to Nepal for 12 days as part of relief efforts.

It was the military medical expert's first overseas mission in her two years of service.

"There was this 12-year-old boy who was brought to us with a large 7cm cut from his knee to his shin," she recalled.

"I was just standing there as the doctor stitched him up and he started wiping his tears on me. All I could do was put my arms around his shoulders and comfort him."

It did not help that the boy's father was standing outside the mobile medical clinic and shouting.

"I told the translator to get the father away from the area," she said.

"He was upset that the boy had got injured. The shouting, along with the injury, was making the boy even more scared."

When the stitching were finally done, the boy thanked ME1 Shorini and the team. She did not see him again.

It was the experience that touched her the most while in Nepal, where the SAF deployed 38 personnel, comprising a medical team as well as staff from the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre (RHCC).

The team returned on a Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 aircraft yesterday to their families at Paya Lebar Air Base.

They had left Singapore for Nepal on April 30 and stayed there for 12 days.

The aircraft has made a total of 11 flights into Nepal since April 26 to transport personnel, equipment and relief supplies, as well as to evacuate 71 Singaporeans and 24 people of other nationalities.

The medical team treated more than 3,000 patients for injuries sustained in the earthquake, disaster-related illnesses and common ailments.

ME4 Tan Puay Meng, 38, also a military medical expert, said even though he was prepared for the situation there, it was a challenge getting the team together. "We were notified and deployed in just two to three hours," he said.

"It is really the professionalism and skills that we have that hold us all together."

Director of Changi RHCC, Colonel Lim Kwang Tang, 49, added that it was also a challenge to coordinate relief efforts on the ground.

He described how several medical teams were sent to the same place, which did not optimise resources.

"Our biggest learning point is that operations like these are definitely going to be very chaotic, especially during the initial phase," he said.

"There is a need for a common platform for all of us (from the different countries) to share information so that we can better optimise the resources that are available and to render assistance as fast as possible to where it is needed."

OPERA SYSTEM

The RHCC provided their command and control information system, Opera, which allowed them to plot down the real-time locations of all the medical teams.

"We plotted down every medical team into the Opera system. Search-and-rescue teams from the 34 countries were also plotted, real- time. This helped to reduce duplication (of medical resources)," he added.

Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen received the returning personnel at the air base yesterday.

He said: "I am very happy that Singaporeans have a big heart and when others are in need, they step up. All around, I think this has been a very good mission. We have been able to do what we wanted to do, and of course, we offer our deepest condolences to the people in Nepal."

davidsun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 12, 2015.
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