Over the last recent year, I worked as a preschool teacher in a classroom with children ages 3-4 years old. While I found much joy and a sense of pride in my work as a teacher, I felt that something was missing. I knew I needed a career change. I wanted to help others in need and feel as though I was making a difference in people’s lives that truly needed it, but how? I began to research different available volunteer opportunities all around the world. I found SACH while doing so and immediately became interested. I became passionate about their work and mission, providing life-saving heart surgery to families in need regardless of race, gender, or religion, the population they worked with, Middle-Eastern countries with inadequate care, and their commitment to the patients and families. I felt the need to be a part of this incredible program and these families’ lives.
Fast forward a year and a not so quick flight from New Jersey to Israel, and here I am as a part-time volunteer at SACH writing a blog for all of you to read, something I feel extremely blessed and honoured to be able to do. One of my many experiences here in the SACH home that has really stuck with me was an interaction with one of the “Mamas”. Mama Dora from Kenya was a light in the home. From her bright smile to her contagious laugh, Mama Dora was always a pleasure to be around. Mama Dora had a drive to educate herself. Her daughter Dora both spoke and could read English and would often help to communicate to her mother what I and other English speakers were saying. Every day after Kulala time (nap time) you could find Mama Dora with the same Doctor Suess book in her hand, practising sounding out the letters and forming some words. After weeks of practice, Mama Dora had a break through and I was there to experience it with her. Mama Dora successfully read a whole page of the book for the first time! The joy and excitement Mama Dora, myself, and the other staff felt was incredible. Watching Mama Dora achieve her goal was something that I will never forget. The pride she took in herself was such an amazing thing to witness.
The SACH home is unlike any other place I have ever been. The positive energy and strong sense of community is apparent the second you walk through the door. To see people from all over the world; including the mothers, children, volunteers, doctors, and office staff, come together with the sole purpose of helping sick children to heal and thrive is extremely gratifying. Being a part of this community means building connections with those that I would never normally have the opportunity to connect with, those that walk completely different paths in life than I. Considering cultural differences and language barriers, approaching the “Mamas” and children in the home was something I had no idea would come with such ease. We do not speak the same language, listen to the same music, wear the same clothing, or eat the same foods on a daily basis, all things that most come into conversation about when first meeting a person. So what do we speak about? Through nonverbal communication, some very broken English, and interaction through play, relationships are built on a daily basis here in the home. We can all learn from each other. The children and mothers play me music by artists from their home countries and I familiarise them with some of my favourite tunes. We look at maps and pictures of their countries, learning about each other’s cultures and customs. I have even learned some Swahili while volunteering in the home, how cool is that?!
I have three months left as a part-time volunteer here in the SACH home. While it does not seem long enough, I plan to make the most of the rest of my time here. I am so excited to continue to build many more meaningful relationships with the mothers and children while making life long lasting memories that will forever remain in my heart.
Stephanie Raphael was a Tikkun Olam program participant, now she is learning to become a child-life specialist.