Malay poetry-writing competition helps engage community in diabetes fight

(From left) Ms Kamaria Buang, Ms Norlila Abdul Ghani and Ms Nur Zukhairiah Hamdan.
(From left) Ms Kamaria Buang, Ms Norlila Abdul Ghani and Ms Nur Zukhairiah Hamdan.ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Reading about how badly affected the Malay community was by diabetes on the news and social media platforms inspired Ms Nur Zukhairiah Hamdan, 31, to join Diabetes Singapore's Malay poetry competition to do her part in raising awareness about the disease.

The Malay language teacher at Jurong Secondary School said: "I want my readers to appreciate their health more after reading my poem, and not take it for granted."

She was the winner among those aged 15 to 35 in the poetry competition. Joining her was Ms Norlila Abdul Ghani, 44, who took top spot among those aged 36 to 59 and Ms Kamaria Buang, 63, in the 60 and above category.

Diabetes Singapore, a non-profit organisation that provides education, support and counselling for diabetics and their families, said it chose poetry as a medium because it resonates with the Malay community. Over 350 entries were received from March 12 to April 15.

It said that Malays are disproportionately burdened with diabetes-related complications, noting that 14.4 per cent of them had diabetes in 2020, compared to 8.2 per cent for Chinese, as highlighted in Parliament in March.

Minister in Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman, who was the guest of honour at the prize-giving ceremony at Wisma Geylang Serai on Friday (April 23), said: "The issue of diabetes has been a challenge for the Malay community for some time now. It's not easy because the issue has a lot to do with lifestyle and diet, which people have been used to for a long time.

"Hopefully through this medium (poetry), there will be greater awareness about diabetes within the Malay community. The poems are an innovative way to get people to reflect on the important messages and appreciate the Malay language and culture."

Ms Kamaria, who like the other two winners received $1,000 in prize money, has been a writer for over 40 years. Over 100 of her poems have been published in the Malay-language newspaper Berita Harian.

She said: "My message is for people to remember to prioritise their health while they are trying to chase success. When we neglect our health, we may end up with chronic diseases like diabetes. Once we have it, it is very difficult to manage and heal from it."

Ms Kamaria, who currently teaches sewing at various community centres, added that seeing one of her close friends lose a leg due to diabetes was one of the reasons that spurred her to join the competition and raise awareness about the severity of the disease.

For Ms Norlila, a Malay language teacher at Da Zhong Primary School, joining the competition was a way to challenge her poetry writing skills while advocating a good cause.

She said: "I felt it was a responsibility to put the issue of diabetes in the spotlight so that the community knows how serious it is."

Through her work, she hopes to prod her readers to take the necessary steps to lead a healthier lifestyle before diabetes becomes a problem for them.

"As a Malay language teacher, it was also a unique and meaningful way to familiarise the Malay community with our culture and language," she added.

(Front row, from left) Ms Kamaria Buang, Dr Mohamed Maliki Osman, Ms 
Nur Zukhairiah Hamdan and Ms Norlila Abdul Ghani. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

Dr Maliki said that efforts to fight against diabetes can be expanded to other mediums to better engage the Malay community and help them understand the severity of diabetes better.

For instance, he suggested that there could be songs and jingles containing messages to fight against diabetes as these "can be remembered easily".

He said: "The most important thing is that people understand the long-term impacts of diabetes. Medical cost is high and families are also impacted."