Before I go into detail about my amazing experience at SACH, I would like to get this message out to any prospective volunteers. If you are even considering the most remote possibility of volunteering for SACH in some way, just do it! Admittedly, I didn’t actually know all too much about SACH before I came. Sure, I knew about the recent UN award, and the mission of improving the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children in developing countries. After living full-time with the kids, getting to know them and about the life-changing surgical cardiac procedures that they had undergone, I can honestly say that this organization has exceeded any expectations that I had. Spending so much time with the children, you really get a feel for how much of an impact their treatments have had. Children who had debilitating congenital heart defects were now playing around and dancing like any other kids. And why shouldn’t they be? It was surreal to see how much these kids, regardless if they are from Afghanistan, Zanzibar or Tanzania, so perfectly fit my archetype of what kids are like. They love watching episodes of Tom & Jerry and eating bamba until someone stops giving it to them. Seeing those undeniable similarities undoubtedly led to what I realized during my time at SACH: that great pediatric cardiac care is a privilege that only some of us can benefit from, but all of us deserve. You can’t go wrong if you are thinking of volunteering for this organization.
Anyways, right now, I’m exhausted. The good kind of exhausted. My weeks volunteering full-time at SACH have been an experience unlike any other. From making play-doe cupcakes (that I had to pretend to eat or else!), to dancing to Waka Waka or simply just messing around with the kids, it was all the most enjoyable volunteer experience that I could have hoped for. These kids left an indelible mark on me (literally, I don’t think I’ll be able to wash out all the marker and paint), and I’m definitely going to be thinking about them long after I leave. I know they might not be able to read this, but I want to give a few shout-outs. Ahmed, you awesome baby! Every time I gave you a ball to hold you just threw it away and smiled, but it was a blast playing with you. I wish I had gotten footage of the time you sat at the table and ate three bananas in one minute. Alice, you are so smart! Playing connect-four all those hours with you was so fun (and also a challenge). Hapsa and Noorina, you may sometimes make a balagan but I never minded cleaning up after you. During my time at SACH, a large group of now-healthy children returned to their native country of Zanzibar. Fahad and Nashiri were now completely normal (aside from the cool scars), excitable kids and I missed them immediately after receiving a huge hug goodbye at the airport. One thing that struck me about these kids was their strength. I can’t imagine navigating through the tough experience of rehabbing from heart surgery, and many are doing it in Israel at such a young age without their parents.
I came to SACH with a lot of questions, which were all eventually answered. How could I communicate with the kids who don’t speak English? Well, it turns out you don’t need to know English to play a game of War with Issa and Nuzi. You also don’t need English when you are trying to make a baby like Pierre laugh. How would I be able to create a fun time for kids who just had heart surgery? Well, these kids seemed to be able to have fun with any toy or puzzle, so that wasn’t a problem. What would I do if I ran out of ideas of things to do with the kids? I just had to learn to improvise, and the kids definitely liked it when I let them strum my guitar while I held chords to create a song.
I see a future in medicine for myself, pediatric or not, and this experience was invaluable to me. I know that I won’t be treating a homogeneous population, and experiences with diverse cultures can only help. Where else could I get the opportunity to volunteer with children from Afghanistan, Zanzibar, Ethiopia and Tanzania at the same time? SACH is called an INTERNATIONAL humanitarian project for a reason. Hopefully, I’ll be back in some way!