After 40 years of service as a nurse in the Hospital Authority, Ms Cheung Mo Har  joined Health In Action after her retirement in 2015. She is a volunteer nurse in our Family Health Management Program, and volunteer trainer in our Community Health Ambassadors Program. On top of volunteering at Health In Action, she gives health talks at elderly centres, and even twists balloons at different community outreach programs.

Very often after natural disasters or traffic accidents, we see on the news how the passing of a loved one may mean losing the breadwinner in the family. Death entails more than just tears and a funeral service. It affects a family emotionally, physically and of course, financially. These are all due to unforeseeable circumstances. Have you considered however, death of the family’s breadwinner due to foreseeable reasons, for instance deteriorating health?

In her younger days, Ms Cheung’s father was diagnosed with chronic hypertension, but did not take medications regularly. Ms Cheung’s father passed away before he turned 60, leaving Ms Cheung, who had just graduated from nursing school, the only person to keep the family’s finances afloat. It was then when she realised that one’s health affects more than the individual – it affects the family as a unit. She was fortunate that she had the finances to support her younger siblings’ education, but this is not the case for everyone. She shared, “If I had known early on the symptoms and management of chronic diseases, the family could have taken an active role in keeping Dad’s hypertension under control, and avoided difficult times.” It is with the philosophy of hoping to give community members an early chance to access health education that Ms Cheung volunteers regularly with HIA.

Passing on health knowledge

Having had 40 years of working experience, in addition to her education in nursing school, she passes on her health knowledge and teaches basic health checks to the Community Health Ambassadors. At the same time, learning is both ways; to a large extent, she takes away more than she gives. As a trainer, she benefits from the HIA’s training in nutrition and patient education, and also learns from the participants. “There is always a spark within each of the participants,” she recounts. “When I ask them what they want to achieve after the course, the answer that resonates best is always – to help people. It is that simple. All of them would like to help themselves, their families, and their community. And because of this I reflect upon myself always – how do I do more to make better use of my abilities?” To Ms Cheung, the Training the Trainer programs are as if for her to pass on the power and brilliance of candle flames. “With my knowledge in healthcare, I pass on the light to the participants in the room. And they in turn can touch others with their newly equipped knowledge in healthcare. Collectively, the extraordinary light has the power to make ordinary citizens more health-conscious.”

Utilising community resources

After volunteering for HIA for close to 2 years, what struck Ms Cheung most was how the residents in Kwai Tsing, where the Healthy Living Project for Working Poor Families is based, were generally not aware of the resources available in the vicinity. She recalled, “There was a resident who had absolutely no idea how to book a slot at the General Outpatient Clinic. After I spoke with the group, they now know where they can seek help when they fall ill, for example at day clinics and even night clinics in the public sector.” With such knowledge, she believes that it can help residents manage chronic illnesses, for instance hypertension. With chronic illnesses managed within the primary healthcare system, she hopes people will remain healthier, so that less burden will be placed on the tertiary healthcare system and accident and emergency services.

To some extent, she sees herself as an ambassador of the public healthcare system. When giving health talks, she intermingles hard facts with riveting stories from her days in the surgical operating theatre. Every time Ms Cheung goes “I remember in the hospital when…”, the low hum of casual chit chat stops and everyone listens intently. By connecting on a personal level, Ms Cheung hopes that she can be someone Kwai Tsing residents can reach out to when they have questions about their health, or about how to utilise the community’s health resources, making the public healthcare system more accessible to all.

Before we ended our chat, she made sure I understood that retirement does not necessarily mean putting away all your medical knowledge. In fact, “If you are really passionate about what you are doing, you would not want to put everything down abruptly during retirement; rather, you would want to pass on the knowledge you have accumulated over the years to others.”

Written by intern Agnes Yip