Welcome to Bayt Abdullah Children’s Hospice, a place where everyone possesses a Zen attitude, has an enchanting smile on their faces and dresses down modestly. It’s a place where people voluntarily come to work for a great cause – to care for youngsters with life-threatening illnesses.
The hospice aims to provide palliative health, mental and spiritual care for children and support their families to ease their sufferings after their children are diagnosed. “A lot of volunteers come with the notion that all of our kids are hooked up to IVs, having a great misconception of what it is like to be in hospice care. When they come, they cannot tell which children have illnesses and which ones don’t. It’s a very beautiful thing to see,” said Mariam Abdulkhalek.
Mariam has been working at Bayt Abdullah for two years as a volunteer coordinator and is part of a team that manages events and donations. “I love it. It’s a great place to work!” she beamed.
What are the volunteering opportunities at BACCH?
“Most of our volunteers want to be with the kids, but sometimes it’s too much for them. Some people who’ve gone through a certain situation find it hard to be with children. So, we have a lot of different volunteering opportunities. Because we are a non-governmental organization, we offer everything from administrative help to helping us when families come and stay for the whole weekend and we hold activities for them. Also, they can help in facilitating events and fundraising. We only take volunteers above the age of 16 and up. For high school students and university students, we write them a recommendation letter if they complete 40 hours. They also choose the timings convenient to them, once or twice a week. Some volunteers will only want to help once a month or only during our events,” Mariam explained.
Initially, volunteers are not allowed to deal directly with the children. They must first spend a specified period with team members to enable them to get to know them and understand their abilities and personalities. They do some administrative tasks like help setting up the library, fundraising, organizing storage rooms, or managing the toy and stationery inventories. In addition, a volunteer is not left alone with any child, even after giving a detailed overview about them and what is expected from them.
Mariam or any team member is always there to supervise during the first days. “Usually, they don’t realize the immensity of what they’re signing up to, and when once they start, they can’t emotionally handle it. When a child dies, we hold a debriefing session. They are welcome to join the family to sit with the psychologist. We talk about the kids and the good moments shared. We are with the volunteer every step of the way – they’re never alone. It’s normal that some of them come wanting to spend time with the kids, but when they start hanging out with them, they feel they can’t complete even halfway through. That’s normal, it’s totally fine,” said Mariam.
BACCH is looking for people that have an experience in dealing with children, but it’s not mandatory. Volunteers should be cheerful and have good morals. It’s preferable to have a skill like playing an instrument or proficiency in art and crafts. “We are also looking for those who are very keen to return again, because the child builds a relationship with them and gets attached to them. It’s difficult to tell the child they’re not here anymore,” stressed Mariam.
Dealing with sensitive cases requires a strong personality and self-control in difficult situations. To continue to work at Bayt Abdullah is a challenge. Mariam flatly told Kuwait Times that it’s not easy work. “I won’t lie to you – it’s very hard. Especially when you build a relationship with the child, and you see that person all the time. But I love it because I think of Bayt Abdullah as a place where children come to experience a great life, to have fun, to feel as comfortable as we can help them feel as long as they can. I never think of Bayt Abdullah as a final destination. It’s just about putting in your mind that it’s a way of life instead of an end point,” she said.
To volunteer at BACCH, visit http://www.bacch.org/ to fill out an application.
Story and Photos by Athoob Al-Shuaibi