I learned about Save a Child’s Heart in high school, and since then, I had been hoping for the opportunity to work there. I have always loved working with children, but when I heard there was a non-profit organization that gives lifesaving heart procedures to children from developing countries, I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of. I decided after college to intern in Israel, and I immediately asked my internship coordinator if Save a Child’s Heart had an open spot. I was so happy they did because my experience at Save a Child’s Heart was the best thing I have ever done. I was nervous on my first day because I was worried I would not be able to form relationships with children who speak a different language than I do. As soon as I met the children, I realized the language barrier did not matter. We communicated through physical interactions and play, and I was able to form lasting connections with the children and their families.
Before SACH, I did not know the extent of how bad the healthcare system is in the countries these children come from like Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Senegal, and Uganda. The caregivers who did speak some English would tell me how thankful they are for SACH because their children would never have gotten the treatment they need without the organization. Furthermore, I learned about the conditions in which some families were living in. Many lived in houses made of mud, did not have electricity or running water, and often shared a bed with parents and siblings. The community at Save a Child’s Heart is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It is a nationwide community that comes together for a common purpose, to love and support these children and their families.
The mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, and nurses who escort the children are some of the strongest women I know. They are thrown into an unknown environment with people they don’t know and are unsure of when they will be able to return home. It is incredible to see the children and the family members form bonds with each other even though they are from different countries. Each day I was excited to go to work to see their smiling faces and be greeted by their hugs and screams as I walked through the door. One of my favorite parts of each day was waking the kids up from “kulala,” which means sleep in Swahili. Each day the children nap for a few hours after lunch, and the interns wake them up to start the afternoon activities. I loved knocking on their bedroom doors and watching them one by one as they stumbled out into the hallway with sleep still in their eyes, but with huge smiles on their faces as if they had not just seen me a few hours earlier.
Another fantastic part of being at the children’s home everyday is seeing the difference between each child’s personality and health before and after surgery. I have seen multiple children whose personalities blossom after treatment, and that is how I know we are making such an incredible impact on their lives. As an intern, I also had the opportunity to visit the children when they were in the hospital, which allowed me to witness how genuinely resilient these children are. They come out of open-heart surgery or invasive catheterization and, a few days later, are laughing, smiling, and eager to play.
I could have never foreseen the impact these children would make on my life and the loving attachment I would form with each of them. Towards the end of my internship, when COVID-19 came to Israel, Save a Child’s Heart made the tough decision to close the home to anyone besides the patients and their families to ensure the safety of the children. Even though I am no longer at the house each day, I am always talking to one of the SACh families I met during my time in Israel. Each day my phone is flooded with adorable pictures of children either back in their home countries or still in Israel. Amidst all the chaos happening around the world related to COVID-19, it is uplifting to see these children’s smiling faces in a time of such uncertainty. Working at Save a Child’s Heart was such a privilege, and I am beyond grateful to the SACH community and the friends I made while working there.