I mean this literally when I say that I had no idea what to expect before arriving at SACH in mid-May. I had just finished finals for my first year of medical school and then I left for Israel the next day. Because of this, I hadn’t been able to appropriately plan for my journey, or even reflect on what kind of environment I was about to enter. I just decided to go in with an open mind and an open heart. And to my delight, those attitudes were exactly what I found in return when I arrived at the Children’s House. Beautiful people living and working together, preserving the innocent joy of a child while simultaneously navigating the endless complexity of cardiovascular medicine.
There were two driving forces that led me to SACH. I had an interest that I wanted to explore in pediatric medicine, and I wanted to be in Israel. As I left SACH, what I took home with me, in addition to accomplishing both of my initial goals, was a better understanding of the world outside of my bubble and, in turn, a better understanding of myself. This was the greatest gift that SACH gave me. That understanding was made possible by having the opportunity to meet brave and nurturing mothers & guardians, dedicated & brilliant nurses & doctors, and resilient & loving children from every corner of the planet. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Senegal, Romania, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Myanmar, Fiji, Canada, and even some new friends right here at home in the United States! With a plethora of languages spoken, and with none of them in common, our shared language became love & compassion. There were many kids that I met with whom I never had a conversation with using actual words, but the beauty was that it didn’t matter. Coloring, soccer, puzzles, trucks, dolls. To play together using these toys, as well as countless others, all you have to do is smile.
Some great examples of this for me were my friends Abdul (Duli) from Zanzibar, Sem from Ethiopia and Arsema from Ethiopia as well. Duli and I used our sunglasses to play peek-a-boo every day, which never failed to get a bellowing laugh from him. As you can see in the pictures, we love smiling and making faces at each other.
Sem is the most adorable human being that I have ever seen in my entire life. He is a baby from Ethiopia who loves trucks, pushing dolls in strollers, and dancing. One day early on in my time at SACH, Sem was crying and I picked him up and started rocking him back and forth. In one of the most beautiful moments of my life thus far, Sem fell asleep in my arms. His hands loosened their grip around my neck and his head sunk into my shoulders. This had never happened to me before, so my friends were quick to take these pictures of us. Eventually I had to put him down and go clean up, but not before I took a quick selfie!
Lastly, Arsema is a young girl from Ethiopia that we affectionately called the sour patch kid. She could sometimes be sour when she would steal toys, but when all was said and done, she was so wonderfully sweet. She would make me follow her around the house as we held hands, always eventually leading me to the play house in the front yard where we would play with her favorite dolls. During my week in the hospital as a medical intern, Arsema came in for a cardiac catheterization procedure. Afterwards, while she was in the clinic getting an echo done, she became scared and started crying hysterically. I made my way from behind Dr. Tamir’s chair to a spot next to her bed. Even though I knew she had no idea what I was saying, I tried to comfort her by telling her that everything was going to be okay and that nothing was going to hurt her today. She reached out her hand, and as our hands clasped together, she calmed down. This allowed Dr. Tamir to finish up his exam smoothly, which ended in the great news that the catherization procedure had been a success! That was an incredibly special moment for me.
Another special moment for me was when my friend Alice wrote me one of the kindest notes that I have ever received. She had recently come to Israel and I noticed that she was looking sad. I decided that my new goal was to make her happy, or at least make her smile, by the end of the day. We proceeded to color for hours as we talked about her hobbies and her home in Tanzania. Alice was one of the few children that spoke English, and it was great English, too! The next day, when I was with Alice at the hospital, she wrote me a note on yellow cardboard paper, a note which sits on my dresser to this day.
I could go on for pages about how special this place is. Its mission is the definition of pure and good. In a world that sometimes leaves us feeling worried, anxious or afraid, this organization is a shining light. As was said by one of the many doctors who volunteer their time for SACH, “This is the real United Nations.” The mothers at SACH are truly inspiring with the amount of effort they put into making the house run every day, as well as with the incredible generosity and positivity they provide every day with. All the while, the SACH children remind us of what’s important in life. They help to ensure that our hearts stay open and honest. The last thing I will share with you is a beautiful relationship that I gained at SACH with a family from Fiji. A little girl from Fiji named Abigail came to SACH, and with came her Dad, Saimoni, and her Mom, Margaret. I became very close with Saimoni throughout my stay. He was insightful, compassionate, enthusiastic and funny. We hit it off immediately and would often stay up late talking. I was fascinated by Fiji, so he graciously told me stories about the country’s history and what life is like for him there today. Our conversations extended from there, but the constant was that they were always late-night talks. We would reheat some rice, sit on the couch in the playroom, and swap stories and pictures. I introduced him to my family via FaceTime, and in return, he welcomed me into his. Margaret would almost always ask if I wanted food whenever she cooked. In the rare case that she didn’t, Saimoni was quick to make sure I was doing alright. I found it very interesting that Margaret’s favorite dish to make, pasta with marinara, was in fact her favorite because she had never had pasta in her life. The cherry on top was when Abigail, a painfully shy but also painfully cute girl, opened up to me towards the end of my time at SACH. Their family will have a special place in my heart forever. I greatly admire Saimoni as a friend and role model, and I hope that I will see him once again in person, for yet another late-night talk.