Sometimes the best things in life happen when you jump right in without having any expectations. My weeks in the Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) home have definitely proven to be filled with many of those moments. When earlier this year I was looking for a meaningful way to spend a summer in Tel Aviv, one of my dear friends recommended me to join her as a part-time volunteer at SACH. She immediately got me enthusiastic about the idea and after I looked further into the work and ideologies of the SACH organisation I decided to join. As a (soon graduating) medical doctor I have heard about many humanitarian organisations that provide healthcare to patients in or from developing countries. What got me extra motivated to volunteer for SACH is how they combine life saving surgeries in Israel with training programs and teaching missions in partner countries. And SACH turned out to be even more amazing than expected!
My first walk into the house was on a Thursday afternoon: the sun was burning and the streets were busy with traffic and people rushing home from work. I found myself on what appeared to be a regular residential street on the outskirts of Holon. But was I wrong: after a quick buzz of the garden gate, I found myself in a little oasis and was immediately greeted by the staff, other volunteers and not in the last place by an amazing group of smiling children. After a short briefing with the coordinating staff, it was time to meet everyone. It happened to be a special yoga themed afternoon and one of the other volunteers brought along a sound bowl for some alternative healing. It didn’t only get all kids curious, but also the mothers and other volunteers. The resonating sounds of the bowl in combination with the stretching and bending of yoga practice made everyone feel both happy and relaxed. Way to start the volunteering!
The following days turned into weeks and I don’t even know how many bracelets we made, mandalas we coloured, toy cars we drove and puzzles we put together. Every day with all the kids and volunteers was one filled with laughter and happiness. One of my favourite days in the house was when we blasted out loud music (of course, limited to two songs on repeat: Shakira’s “Waka Waka” and Fonsi’s “Despacito”…) and played musical chairs with the kids. Some didn’t really understand the concept of getting up and dancing around, because once you have a seat you might as well keep it right?! Then some of the others decided to just solo roll and get their own chairs… So in the end we basically danced and sang and clapped all afternoon long, chair or no chair.
During my weeks in the house I made an exceptional bond with Mulhat, a little princess from Zanzibar. Mulhat is not only the purest soul, but also an amazing example of how resilient children can be. It had been 9 months already since Mulhat came to the SACH house for her open heart surgery. However, due to many complications, she had found herself the only one of her group still not ready to go home. And as I think we can all imagine, being away from home with so many new faces every week got a bit too hard on her at times. Being the fighter that she proved to be, together we still found ways to get the smiles back on every single day. Sometimes picking up a new puzzle or a mandala would be enough, at other times we would get away to dry some tears and read books together. (At time of writing she just flew back home: G-d bless you, Mulhat!)
Another special young lady in the SACH house is Yulia. Pretty much impossible to miss, because yes she will tell everyone that her photo is not on the door neither her name on the board of names, because she is not a patient. Yulia’s dad has been in Israel for a couple of years as a medical doctor undergoing training by the SACH doctors to become a pediatric cardiac surgeon. Yulia therefore spends most of her days hanging out with the children on which her dad performs life saving heart surgeries. She is the most bubbly and curious personality, one that definitely adds a spark to any group she’s in.
Of course these two special ladies are not the only ones that I will always remember. There are Abdul and Samwel as double trouble, Khadija with her gorgeous face, Hapsa with unbeatable dance moves, little Lianna with her beautiful eyes, Patrick with his jokes, Rehema that always wanted to sneak in a hug, Zahran the little tiger… Alice who basically felt like an adopted sister… And last but for sure not least Muqadam, who will always remind me that no matter how many obstacles there are, life will always be about love and happiness.
I could try and describe the emotions and thoughts that I had when saying goodbye, but it would only vaguely touch everything that ran through my mind. All the kids have been incredibly kind and giving and it’s amazing to experience so much unconditional love! I can only hope that together we can save many more hearts, as I will hold all the SACH children in mine forever. Because in the end, no matter how much political conflict there is, a simple smile can change the world. And I can’t think of any better way of achieving that than by giving a child the opportunity to grow up happy and healthy with a cured heart.