Friday, 29 June 2012

In My Spare Time...

I am visiting other initiatives in Malaysia and made a recent trip to Taiping to visit the facilities of the Psychiatric Hospital, especially their initiatives with older people.  The psychiatric services are strapped for cash to bring about lasting innovations but I witnessed a lot of very creative thinking.  In former years Malaysian doctors did not choose to be psychiatrists, it was a last resort if you were not very bright!  Forty years ago we rescued a 12 year old 'Orang Asli' (aboriginal) boy who was going to be given ECT - the Filipino psychiatrist said that he could not communicate and was 'out of it'.  When my younger son started talking his own language and brought out a pack of cards to play, the young lad was perfectly able to communicate and interact!  But it was a near thing.

Recently there has been a mudslide that wiped out some Orang Asli houses, killed and injured and rendered people shocked and homeless.  Several of them are in the psychiatric hospital suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression.  This was unheard of in the past when the Orang Asli proved to be very resilient people with a life style to be envied.  However they are losing their homelands and more rain-forest is being decimated for oil palm plantations.  So mudslides are becoming more frequent as ancient forests are being cleared.  (for more about the Malaysian aborigines got to the link on:, and also see 'Theatre, Ritual and Transformation: The Senoi Temiars, by Sue Jennings and published by Routledge, 1995).

Isn't it time we took positive action to halt the so called 'march of progress' and considered the loss of habitat, wild life, and an indigenous life-style that could be a role-model for us all.  The Orang Asli, after all were the original inhabitants of Malaysia, long before the arrival of Indians, Malays, Chinese, Javanese and more.  All these people make up the extraordinarily colourful and rich tapestry, that now makes Malaysia.  But it is the Orang Asli who made the fabric into which these new threads are woven.

Monday, 4 June 2012

First stop Malaysia

First Stop Malaysia for my Churchill Fellowship 'Arts and Older People'

Malaysia is a country of extremes.  Of so much pleasure and such a lot of pain.  Totally overwhelmed by a 100 bed ward of elderly people, many with dementia, all dressed in peach cotton and scrupulously clean.  'They don't talk about their families' said one staff member, yet one woman of 100 was stopped from telling me that her son had not visited.  Just where can we start with creative and interactive activities?  Trying to find volunteers to go in in teams and work with small groups.  I drive away and there are all the amazing colours and smells, all the sensory stimulus one could hope for, so I have suggested we find a way for them to have a sensory garden with plants and water and stone shapes.

I go to Ipoh and meet Dr Goh who is President of the Malaysian Dementia Society and find such vision and commitment to finding solutions for older people, especially those with dementia.  He has already implemented the idea of a herbal garden with sweet fragrances, and he has invented a proto-type whereby people in wheel chairs can stand and have eye contact with others instead of being looked down upon.  He is very committed to cross cultural creative stimulus and is encouraging carers to do massage and storytelling.  

As I said - Malaysia is a country of extremes!