First day volunteering

Today was the first day of the students’ volunteer/practicum placements. I went to Crystal and Courtney’s site, the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. We were warmly greeted by Ursula Hodgin, the volunteer coordinator for the past 16 years. She is in the photo with Courtney and Crystal…she is a very sweet lady with a huge heart for the children.

We learned that this is the only dedicated specialist pediatric hospital serving the children and families of southern Africa. It opened in the 1950s, and the wards are gradually being renovated. We looked down the dark corridor of an “original” ward and it was depressing…much different than the bright and cheery renovated wards with colorful floors and wall murals of the Big Five and other sites.

There are units that focus on renal and liver transplants, burn care, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other specialized care (e.g., TB), as well as an outpatient unit. There is also a preschool and primary school for the kids! Their goal is to provide the best medical care, despite the family’s income, race, religion, or place of residence. They also help parents (mothers were specifically mentioned) with donated clothing, toiletries, and food while they stay at the hospital, as well as transportation fares and groceries when they go home.

The role of the volunteers – with their cute and recognizable aprons and toy trolleys – is to play with the children. Ursula talked about the importance of a warm smile and playtime in the hospital environment. I was going to say in the healing process, but not all of these children will heal enough to return home. She described the emotional part of the “job,” and how if a child the student has spent time with dies, there are social workers available to help process the loss.

The plan is for Crystal and Courtney to spend their time dedicated to one of the wards so they can build relationships with the children and families. Today when I left them, Ursula was about to pair them with volunteers to shadow for the day. That is, after the 11:00 tea time that Ursula was going to get ready. 🙂

Of course, part of the job is to help keep the toys sanitized, so there will be a bit of that type of work too. There are always those less glamorous parts of any job we do, I suppose. I think this will be a great placement site with lots of lessons awaiting Courtney and Crystal. Some will be hard lessons, but I trust they will see how little things they do can make a big difference.

I look forward to hearing more about what ward they are on and how it went. Also, I am excited to hear from the other students on their placement sites, & I look forward to visiting them over the next couple of weeks.

Back to class tomorrow…and Robben Island if all goes according to plan. If not, we will get our Gumby on once again!

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