For the past month or so, I’ve been a part-time volunteer at the SACH house in Holon. The experience was one that impacted me so tremendously that it’s hard to describe in just a few sentences. However, I will try my very best.
Since my Bat Mitzvah, my family and I have been involved in Save a Child’s Heart. For my Bat Mitzvah, inspired by SACH’s work and mission, I chose SACH as my Bat Mitzvah fundraising project. Eight years later, looking for volunteering work in Israel for the summer, SACH was the perfect option. My experience at SACH, however, went far beyond a simple summer volunteering experience. On my first day, as I struggled to open the front gate at the SACH house, I was welcomed by the beaming Vicky, a six year old from Zambia who ran over to me, arms wide and ready for a hug. Expecting to be sitting with truly ill kids all day, I was a bit taken aback. The mother smiled at me: “welcome,” she said. This was the beginning of getting to know the incredibly warm and kind children, mothers, nurses, and staff at SACH.
From there, I spent every day getting to know and playing with kids ranging from the age of one to nineteen. Our activities ranged from Frozen puzzles to Uno to daily dance parties. I was impressed by how quickly I lost Spot-It to Maria, a twelve year old from Uganda, Uno to Mwewa from Zambia, and how out of my depth I was while dancing non-stop with Is-Haka, a talented dancer from Zambia (who doubles as a nine year old child). I laughed with the mothers as I accidentally ripped my shorts on a nail one day, and learned from them and six-year old Fatma how to count to ten in Swahili. I listened to them speak about their lives at home and their other children. For the most part, the kids and mothers had very broken English and my Swahili or Lugandan was far from fluent, so we learned to speak through hand motions, smiles, and the wonderful google translate. It was hard for me to imagine or understand how difficult it must be to uproot yourself and travel to a foreign country, leaving your home, family, and schooling behind for months at a time. But the mothers were clearly incredibly strong women, and the kids even stronger.
It was easy to forget that my new group of buddies were sick kids. But then sometimes someone came back from an operation at the hospital, and everyone hugged them, teary-eyed, thanking God that everything went okay. Or I’d watch a kid struggle to breathe as he tried to play tag. Or I’d take another second to notice the scars on the kids’ chests from their operations. In moments like this, I appreciated why I was where I was. In those moments, I learned how easy it is to take health and healthcare for granted. And how valuable those two things truly are. In those moments, I took the second to appreciate the true import of SACH’s work and mission.
Parting from the SACH community was heartbreaking for me, and I’ve convinced myself that I will one day travel to Africa to visit my new friends. I gave my number to a few of the mothers and kids, to ensure that we keep in touch. And most importantly, my pre-med dream has now become a dream to one day be able to work at SACH and save the hearts of children myself. I am beyond grateful to SACH for the opportunity to connect with the incredible people I’ve met, and for revealing to me how sacred life and medicine truly are.