My name is Michael Gould, and this is my last week as a full-time volunteer at the Save a Child’s Heart Children’s Home.
I first visited the SACH home during my senior class trip to Israel. While I was here, I played with the kids and talked to the volunteers about their experience. It didn’t take much to convince me that I wanted to return.
Four weeks ago, I left an airport in the United States – where I couldn’t help overhearing dozens of loud and combative political debates. The next day I arrived here—a home filled with laughter, smiles and art projects that wound up more often on clothing than on paper. It was a considerable upgrade.
On my first day, the children were watching How to Train Your Dragon in one of the bedrooms upstairs. They were spread out along the top and bottom bunk beds. Squeezed into the tight space, and still jetlagged, I dozed off. I opened my eyes toward the end of the movie and found Rose — a young girl from Kenya looking up at me with curious eyes and a smile. Her head, with her red hair tied straight up, was resting comfortably on my shoulder. I knew then that I was in for a special few weeks.
At first, I was surprised by the children’s stamina and playfulness. After all that they have been through—traveling across the world to receive vital medical care—it would be reasonable for them to be less than enthusiastic towards a random guy from America encouraging them to play games. Despite it all, the kids overwhelmed me with their contagious energy. By my third day, I felt like I had connected with each of them. Denis—a gregarious 12-year-old boy from Kenya—made fun of my stick figure artwork; Muqadam—a smiley 2-year-old boy from Tanzania—laughed when I slid on the ground towards him; and Faith—an outspoken 4-year-old girl from Kenya—demanded that I bring her toys (which, I later learned, meant she had accepted me).
That Monday, I expected to see a more subdued side of the children because Mondays are the days when most of them go to the hospital. I used the quiet time to play a game of cards with Mati, the eldest in the house from Ethiopia. As we played, I thought about what I would do with the kids when they returned. Spending the entire morning in the hospital sounded like a tiring proposition to me, so I expected that they would be less spirited. That afternoon, a group of high school students came to visit. “They may be tired today,” I warned the students. I looked foolish when just I finished my warning, Denis came running up from behind me, laughing and jumping on my back. Then, I remembered my visit four years ago. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
Volunteering with SACH has unequivocally been one of the most inspiring, meaningful, and downright fun experiences of my life. It has also opened my eyes to the roles that people can play in changing the lives of others on both a small and large scale. I feel absolutely privileged to have been a part of these kids’ lives and I will never forget their generous loving nature, their laughter or their joy.