Have you heard of pro bono TCM services? Read on to find out what this charity is doing to support the well-being of seniors in the community.

Visit the Cheng Hong Siang Tng temple on a Tuesday morning and you will be greeted by the sight of senior citizens chatting quietly in a makeshift waiting area outside. Around the corner, tucked away in a small room on the edge of the temple premises, a TCM clinic quietly goes about its business.

There is nothing fancy about the clinic – a few anatomy charts on the wall, bottles of medicines on four wall shelves, a small desk, some chairs – and the same humility can be seen in the people running the clinic, who go about their work without fanfare.

Patients waiting for their turn to see the physician.

Cheng Hong Welfare Service Society (CHWSS) is a long-standing name, having been around for more than 30 years, and officially registered as a society in 2004. The charity offers two main services – pro bono TCM treatment and medication to the needy and free funeral and columbarium services to those who require them, regardless of race or religion.

From their mission, purpose to processes, there is something simple and unassuming about the way the clinic works. They operate based on trust – patients who seek their services are not questioned about their financial status. So, they contribute whatever they can afford for their treatments.

Physician Chong (right) with patients Mr Tang (left) & Mr Lim (centre).

Most of Physician Chong’s patients are regulars. Mr Lim, 73 and a retired teacher, tells us that he and his wife have been coming together to the clinic once a week, for over 20 years, he for his spine and she for her joints. They are also happy to wait for their treatment. He chuckles in mandarin, “Today’s waiting time is around 45 minutes, quite fast!”.

Both Mr Tang and Mr Lim are enthusiastic supporters of the work done by the organisation.

“The service is very good and helps me a lot,” Mr Tang, 63, says. The active senior who lives around the area is receiving acupuncture and cupping treatment for arthritis and joint pain. He has also seen Filipinos and Indian labourers seeking treatment at the clinic, with language no barrier, as everyone speaks enough basic English to manage.

Norman Tan, Executive Director of CHWSS (left) sharing the work they do with Mona, our volunteer writer (right).

Norman Tan, Executive Director of CHWSS, says people come from all over Singapore to seek treatment, because of their confidence and trust in the physicians the Society works with. Physician Chong, for example, has been practising for over 46 years, and has been with Cheng Hong for over 30.

Finding and retaining good physicians is one of the challenges CHWSS faces, Norman adds, as it is a very niche field and the market is small.

How does the organisation do it? “Donations” Norman answers simply. “The Society relies 100% on donations.” That CHWSS is able to continue their work after so many years is a testament to how beloved they are by the people they serve.

Mr Lim receiving treatment from Physician Chong.

Better funding would definitely help the Society, in Mr Tang’s view. “The space is very small, it would be better if they could get more beds and more doctors.” He says, gesturing at the room, which indeed does seem a little crowded. Physician Chong sees up to 5 patients simultaneously, three seated on chairs and two on two small beds behind curtains.

Laughing, the nurse, Madam Chow, says they have their hands full, and as much as they’d like to be able to do more, they don’t have the capacity without the funds. Physician Chong agrees, as he removes acupuncture needles from Mr Lim’s arms – this is why they stay low profile.

Low profile and simple seem to be the theme for this organisation. There is something dignified and gentle about the place and its people, in what they are trying to do. Norman sums it up perfectly, “We are not trying to heal people here. Just to improve their quality of life a little.”

This story is written by our volunteer writer, Mona Thyagarajan, MSW. Interviews were conducted through a Mandarin translation.