The Save a Child’s Heart home is an integral part of this organization and serves a vital role in functioning as a “home away from home” for the children, nurses, mothers, and volunteers who live in it. It was my home for two weeks in July 2015 when I came to SACH as a full-time volunteer and it has served as a home again while I’ve been studying abroad for the semester in Israel. I have been extremely lucky with the amount of time I’ve been able to spend in this small paradise in Holon, Israel. Through my full-time volunteering experiences, I was able to form unforgettable relationships with children and mothers in an extremely short amount of time. On the other hand, my past few months working as a part-time volunteer has allowed me to go through the entire Save a Child’s Heart experience with the children. It was initially an adjustment for me to be a part-time volunteer since my time in the SACH house was much less compared to my hours as a full-time. But I soon learned that only meant I had to put more energy into getting to know the kids in the weekly visits I had with them. The children constantly had volunteers coming in and out of the house, so even though it was a small victory anytime they remembered my name or recognized me, it was much more important for me to get to know them in order to provide them with the right type of support, whether it be doing a math worksheet with Muhammed (9yrs) every time I came or playing UNO with Ferdinand (17yrs) and Erick (17yrs).
Although both experiences, part-time and full-time, had their differences, both impacted me in ways that are hard to put into words. Each child I have had the opportunity to meet has been special and influenced me deeply. My favorite thing about being a part-time volunteer during the five months I am in Israel is that I have been able to watch the children grow over the course of their SACH experience. Most kids, with a few exceptions, are usually a bit shy the first week they arrive. The little ones cling to their mamas and the older ones are not yet bold enough to ask for a toy or a game. However, after a week that quickly starts to change. Some whose symptoms are more severe than others still remain a bit reserved before their surgeries, however, most kids have adjusted themselves to the house and gotten to know the layout of the playroom very well by the second week. My favorite moment with the kids is always when they return from the hospital after surgeries. There tends to be a second adjustment period after returning, some hit the ground running and are more lively than ever whereas some others take a bit of time to rest before jumping back into things. Nevertheless, whether it takes them minutes or hours to readjust, you can always sense the feeling of relief from the mamas and the happiness from the kids to be back home at SACH.
This past October, I was able to work as a full-time volunteer for two weeks while on break from school. It was during this opportunity that I was able to befriend Muhammed, a nine year old boy from Zanzibar. Muhammed just returned home last week after a successful surgery, but not before making a lasting effect on m.. He came with a young group aged mostly between three and six. He was the only one in his age group and had come without a mother or guardian. I was initially impressed with his peaceful and calming demeanor, a stark contrast to the group of lively three year old’s that had accompanied him. When we weren’t working on math worksheets together, he was typically playing quietly, and contently, by himself or helping the mamas with the younger kids. In the few months that I spent with Muhammed, I did not once heard him cry or complain. I was always greeted with a warm smile and hug and left with the same. He truly inspired me. I had met him at a time when I had begun to miss the comfort of my home and family in the United States. But I thought to myself, if a 9 year old boy can come to a foreign country with no family to accompany him, in order to receive heart surgery, I can overcome a bit of homesickness. Muhammed made the SACH home his home, inspiring me to do the same. The mamas became his temporary guardians and the younger children he treated like brothers and sisters.
Muhammed is just example of the type of children you get the opportunity to meet when volunteering with SACH. Save a Child’s Heart and the children that make up the organization has allowed me to be a part of a cause that is bigger than just myself, humbled me, and inspired me to pursue a career in medicine with a focus on helping children who have not been given a fair chance at life, like those I’ve been lucky to meet during my time volunteering.