Headline: A Family's Pain
by Bissme S
ONE woman’s quest to discover what really happened to her mother forms the foundation for The Story of Kam Agong, a 30-minute documentary by first-time filmmaker and activist Lawrence Jayaraj.
The film focuses on Agnes Padan, an ethnic Lun Bawang from Sarawak, who takes a journey back to her childhood village of Long Semadoh to piece together what really happened to her mother, Kam Agong.
Kam Agong passed away in 2002 at the age of 44, soon after giving birth to her eighth child, a boy named Jordan, at the Lawas district hospital.
The delivery was difficult, and she underwent a complicated caesarean procedure. Instead of consulting a gynaecologist, doctors at the government hospital discharged Kam Agong and instructed her to return to her village over 100km away, where she died 28 days later.
Through the documentary, the audience discovers that her death was caused by medical negligence.
For 49-year-old Lawrence, the story is personal to him, as Kam Agong’s daughter Agnes is his wife.
Lawrence recalls: “My mother-in-law was a loving person. She loved to sing. She liked to teach people how to sing. I have brought her to Kuala Lumpur, and introduced her to my family and my friends. Everyone loved her.”
After Kam Agong’s death, her husband Padan Labo, a padi farmer who is now training to be a pastor, was totally devastated by her passing. “He was completely lost, and did not know what to do next,” says Lawrence.
The documentary gives a glimpse of how Kam Agong’s death affected her family, particularly her younger children. The family even considered giving newborn Jordan up for adoption, as no one could look after him.
Lawrence and Agnes were against the idea, and decided to adopt him themselves.
In 2004, Kam Agong’s family sued the hospital for negligence. They won the case in 2008, but since then very little has changed for the mothers of rural Sarawak, who still have to travel for many hours to get proper maternity care.
“Justice is not all about dollars and cents,” Lawrence says.
He hopes his documentary will open people’s eyes to the deplorable standard of maternity care in Sarawak.
“We have one of the world’s tallest buildings in our country, yet remote places in Sarawak are still struggling with poor maternal care.
“We want someone, probably an NGO or a politician, to advocate for better maternity care for Sarawak.
“The federal government has used natural resources from Sarawak to bring development to the country, so why can’t they provide proper medical facilities in Sarawak?
“We do not want mothers from poor families to go through what Kam Agong endured.”
The Story of Kam Agong came about earlier this year when Lawrence pitched his idea to the FreedomFilmFest (FFF), and won a grant from the annual human rights film festival to make the film.
Filming began in July, and involved interviews with Kam Agong’s family and friends in Long Semadoh.
The film features dialogue in the native Lun Bawang language, with English subtitles.
“I wanted to show the different ethnicities that exist in Malaysia,” Lawrence says. “I want my interviewees to feel they [belong] in our country.”
There are some who believe life and death is in God’s hands, and that includes Kam Agong’s situation, but Lawrence strongly disagrees.
“What happened to my mother-in-law is not takdir (fate),” Lawrence says.
“The doctor who performed the caesarean on my mother-in-law was not a gynaecologist. A crime was committed against her.
“Whoever says my mother-in-law’s death is takdir, I would like to put him on a surgery table and let an unqualified doctor perform surgery on him.”
The Story of Kam Agong will premiere at the FreedomFilmFest at PJ Live Arts in Petaling Jaya from this Saturday to Oct 6.
For his next documentary, Lawrence wants to focus on drug use among youngsters in Lawas, Sarawak.
“There has been a recent report that some teachers in Lawas were caught for selling drugs to their students,” he says.
Expect another interesting documentary that opens our eyes and our hearts.