Adolescents help restore hope for children with cancer
By Monica Awad
East Jerusalem, occupied Palestinian territory, 29 January 2013 – For the first time in her life, 8-year old Shayma travelled to Jerusalem. What should have been an exciting experience for any child turned out to be a heartbreaking challenge.
Shayma, who lives in a village near Jenin, 140 kilometre north of Jerusalem, recently started showing signs of fatigue, fever and loss of appetite. Her father, who works as a nurse at a private hospital in Jenin, hastily took his daughter to a Pediatrician. The doctor suspected the child may have cancer and referred her to a specialized hospital in East Jerusalem.
Having secured a permit from Israeli authorities, her father took Shayma to August Victoria Hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I was shocked to learn that my child is sick with Leukemia. No one had cancer in our family and I cannot get over my fears’, said Shayma’s mother with tears in her eyes at the hospital where her daughter has started treatment.
Treatment made cheerful
While children like Shayma are hospitalized because they are sick, other children visit the hospitals to show support and spread a message of hope. Earlier this month, a group of Palestinian adolescents visited the pediatric cancer department as part of a UNICEF-supported adolescent-led initiative.
Their arrival brought unusual cheerfulness to the cancer ward. Suddenly sounds of music filled the waiting room, as adolescents placed colourful balloons around children’s heads, and actively engaged with little patients in arts and crafts activities. A clown entertained the children, making them chuckle and even laugh.
“We want to lift up children’s spirits. We want to help them overcome their sickness and have hope”, said 17 year old Dana Siam.
This activity is part of a UNICEF-supported adolescent-led initiative implemented by Al Nayzak Association for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation, with funds from the Swedish Committee for UNICEF.
“With this project, adolescents can positively participate in their communities and help find solutions to problems facing children”, says UNICEF Adolescent Officer Maysoon Obeidi.
A group of 700 adolescents is being trained in critical thinking, leadership and communication skills, in order to engage in action research and develop initiatives that better serve their communities.
This specific initiative managed to bring back smiles on the face of Shayma and fourteen other children staying at the Augusta Victoria Hospital pediatric ward. It helped restore a sense of normality in their abnormal lives.
“Our aim is to improve the quality of life of children and improve their emotional well-being, which is crucial to recovery”, said Augusta Victoria Hospital Director, Tawfiq Nasser.
Like all children, Shayma felt at ease and opened up her heart. “When I grow up, I want to become a pediatrician to help other children regain their health,” she said.