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AMDA President to hold online meeting with AMSA Japan

Publication date:2020-10-20
 
Tae Namba (Director of GPSP Bureau, AMDA Headquarters)

On 29 September 2020, about 10 members of Asian Medical Students’ Association Japan (AMSA Japan) and AMDA President Dr. Shigeru Suganami held an online meeting in which the president explained to the aspiring medical students the history of AMSA and what prompted him to establish the group of Asian medical students in the days of his youth.

AMSA is an organization of medical students founded by Dr. Suganami and others in 1980 with the aim of uplifting health and medicine in the Asia region.

The meeting began by a brief self-introduction session with each participant attending, followed by Dr. Suganami’s story of the dawn of the student body. In the late 60s, he set off to explore the world after taking a year-leave from university. Okayama being no exception, Japan at the time was in the midst of student activism. Since protests were sweeping through campuses, lectures were hardly conducted.

The 22 year-old backpacked across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Iran, Kuwait and Laos to see the reality of medicine in each of his destinations. "This first-hand experience has formulated emergency relief and other activities of AMDA," he said. He shared his unique yet multi-facet views which were nurtured through over four decades of his career in the humanitarian sector. Below are some of the main points he raised during the discussion:

1. What makes it difficult for Japan to take the initiative in the global society?

The underlying basis of AMDA’s activities is the clarification on the definitions of peace, human rights, and discrimination. What needs to be built on top of this is a solid concept of building mutual understanding which culminates the idea of mutual trust. It is this kind of robust principle with which Japan has to come up in order to play an active role in world affairs. As long as consistency lies therein, no diplomatic handshakes maybe required.
 

2. Negative list as part of AMDA’s principle of disaster relief

Every activities encompass the so-called ‘positive list’ and ‘negative list’. A positive list indicates the fact that we should only allow ourselves to do what are on the list. It is equivalent to “sumo” (the traditional Japanese wrestling) which is fought based on a set formation. It is much like authorities' disaster response that is being judged based on the effectiveness of their actions conducted within the realm of law.

On the other hand, a negative list allows us to do whatever we want as long as they are not on the list. Professional wrestling maybe a close example: every form of attack is allowed as long as it does not put wrestlers' lives to risk. Because of this, wrestlers naturally become creative at their moves and tactics. AMDA’s activities are very much like this.

While seeking shelter at an evacuation facility, what becomes important to evacuees is how to maintain their wellbeing. To cater to such needs, medical relief organizations are often required to go beyond a medical boundary. At the time of the East Japan Great Earthquake in 2011, AMDA set up a play room for children to play freely inside an evacuation center. It was our attempt to care for mothers who seemed to have been exhausted from looking after their kids.

For AMDA, it takes more disaster relief coordinators than medical practitioners to be flexibly responsive to the needs on the ground. And this is where the creativity of aid givers should be optimized.

AMDA’s three pillar ideas of medical relief activities are: 1) “Avoid medical blunders”, 2) “Avoid troubling disaster victims”, and 3) “Never spoil the creativity of others”. New ideas lead to actions, and eventually get turned into innovations. I expect that many of AMSA members are capable of acting in accordance with a negative list which becomes crucial in tackling chaotic situations right after a disaster strikes. I want each one of you to ask yourself which list best suits your character.
 

3. Learning from beggars and the homeless

What is the difference between a beggar and a homeless person? A beggar has no self-respect, whereas a homeless person never asks for money.

Coming across homeless people on the streets is a daily scenery for someone living in Malaysia like myself. “What should I do to have them receive money?” I wonder. Seeing them as “professors on the streets”, I have been learning a lot from them. As AMDA states in its fundamental philosophy of humanitarian assistance, we firmly believe that "the pride of aid beneficiaries needs to be respected".

A line which a tuberculosis patient uttered one day made an impression on me: “Doctors get paid because there are patients.” These words of wisdom should help medical practitioners understand their patients deeper and ultimately lead them to help their patients regain their dignity. I believe, with AMSA’s personnel-training capabilities, such a humanistic side of aid-giving could be taught internally.
 

4. Birthdays in Sri Lanka

Unlike how parents celebrate children’s birthdays in Japan, in Sri Lanka, it is children that celebrate and thank their parents for giving birth to them. Every country has its unique values and in fact, AMSA is the very place to experience them. That experience will surely be your biggest asset after joining the organization.
 

5. AMSA and AMDA

A human relationship comprises friendship, sponsorship and partnership. As long as you are spending your precious time in life being a medical student, a mutual relationship at the base of AMSA should mainly consist of friendship.

It is my sincere hope that you learn from your experience and make most of it by working together with us (AMDA). Under the spirit of “Sogo-fujo” (mutual assistance), I wish all of you to lend us a hand in building the true form of partnership. This can only be realized through mutual respect and trust. I am very much confident that there is a prosperous future awaiting AMSA and each of its members.
Filled with Dr. Suganami’s enthusiasm to encourage young students, a 90-minute meeting ended fervently. Since there was no time for a Q&A session, the students were asked to send emails for further questions.

 “I could feel that everybody was engrossed in Dr. Suganami’s stories. The fact that he asked questions to the audience during his talk made it more enjoyable to our board members as well,” AMSA Japan President Mr. Hideaki Miyai (senior at the Jichi Medical University) said. “Zoom is an online platform, but it brought us much closer, and that was rather nice,” he commented.

As a step to nurture further partnership with AMSA members, it is highly likely that Dr. Suganami will be responding in a manner that is as fresh and eye-opening as those queries sent to him by the young people.
 
    •  Japan
    •  2020
    •  AMSA

 
 
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