Deciding to apply for a full-time volunteer position at SACH one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was mid-January and I was in my second semester of graduate school, already dreaming of summer vacation. I knew this was going to be my last “real” summer- you know, the one before you have commitments to work and adulthood- and I wanted to make the most of it. I heard about SACH through the grapevine- friends of friends and colleagues who had visited the house on trips or volunteered in previous years. I’m currently pursuing my doctorate in occupational therapy and after visiting the website and reading the blog, I knew SACH would provide me with a meaningful experience, both personally and as a future healthcare professional. With the deadline for summer volunteer positions quickly approaching, I set my school work aside and submitted my application.
Fast forward 6 months to Sunday, July 21st. I’m walking through the gate at the SACH house, suitcases in each hand, and I’m immediately greeted by hugs from the kids. I was humbled by how much love these kids already had for me, a complete stranger at the time. However, it is this pure and immense love that radiates throughout the SACH walls everyday. This love transcends language barriers and cultural differences. It is the strongest form of expression and communication. It is the glue that brings together kids, mothers, nurses, volunteers, and staff from all over the world. In that moment, I knew I was in for a special two weeks.
It is hard to capture with words every incredible moment I experienced during my time at SACH, but I’ll give it my best shot. I watched with bittersweet feelings as two groups from Tanzania and Zanzibar returned home with healthier, happier children. I welcomed two new groups from Ethiopia. I witnessed 7 children return to the SACH home after surgery and celebrated the successful surgery of an additional 4 children. I tried local cuisines from Rwanda, Solomon Islands, and Ethiopia. I learned to count to 10 in Kinyarwanda. I learned the dance to Shakira’s Waka Waka, which plays on an endless loop in the house. Everyday, I was constantly amazed by the resilience of these kids, many of whom come without parents. They are determined to smile, play, and just be kids. I made bracelets and necklaces out of beads, decorated countless birdhouses, and built towers out of magnet tiles. There were hours upon hours of playing checkers, kicking around a soccer ball, and of course, one is never too old for a good old-fashioned game of peek-a-boo. But perhaps my favorite moments and what I’ll miss most is the weight of children sitting on my lap or in my arms with the sound of laughter in the background.
After a magical two weeks at SACH, I am taking with me an enormous amount of gratitude and memories I will cherish for a lifetime, as well as a commitment to emulate the values of SACH as a healthcare professional. The life-changing work of SACH and the inspirational team of doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers are the epitome of what healthcare should be. Saving a life, especially when it comes to children, comes first and foremost and transcends any race, religion, gender, or nationality.