“Oh no, it’s okay,” I said. “I can’t accept.”
Ever since major re-tiling works began below our flat, our two little ones would look excitedly for every opportunity to say hello to all the “uncles” from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.
As the workers filed away home in the evenings, with paint buckets in both hands, our little one Esther-Praise, barely two years old, would stand at attention at the exit door, to wave at every uncle. Her first “Arlow (hello)”s were to the migrant workers under our block.
Fascinated with their cementing work, Sarah-Faith, almost four, would giggle with glee in drawing smiles from the uncles. Months ago, whenever Papa dropped Mama off at a dormitory, he would explain that all the uncles were here to help us in Singapore, and Mama was helping other doctors like her to help them.
Today, as we went on our usual morning walk around the block, Uncle Roi from Bangladesh stood by the vending machine buying all of Sarah-Faith’s friends a treat of their choice.
“Oh no, it’s okay,” I smiled politely.
“Your children make me so happy,” said Roi. “Please accept,” he said, with his genuine smile. “This make me so happy. I so happy to buy them something. Please choose.”
All these months, in public health, my team and I had worked in risk communication and community engagement, visiting dormitories and isolation facilities, partnering organizations and writing up proposals to the World Health Organization to scale up the public health outbreak prevention plan for the workers. I accummulated massive burnout. Even after recovering, I was grieved feeling that I had lost the zeal I had at the very start.
While public health can save millions of lives, one of its downsides is that the one-on-one personal moments doctors so crave for may be few and far between. All this while, I knew what we had done had impacted thousands, but my heart cried for a deeper, authentic, personal connection.
As if God heard my cry, Roi came to me this morning, buying my children treats as a gesture of gratitude for them bringing him joy daily- before asking me what work I did, thanking me for being here.
Through his generosity, I was forced to adopt no longer a position of giving, but of humble reception.
With fullness of thanks in my heart, to him and to God who had heard my heart’s cry, I said holding back tears, “Dhonnobad (thank you in Bengali). This makes me so happy too.”

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