The aim of our work is to increase the quality of life of children and parents. In the project “Let me tell you a story” we achieve that through therapeutic work with long-term hospitalized children, by telling and staging stories. The volunteers perform each week a play and spend time with children who are hospitalized at two paediatric departments in Zagreb.
Since March 2012, when the project started, until today, throughout active volunteer work we have gained a lot of knowledge, undertaken education and training, and invested a lot of effort and time. Once a week our volunteers visit the Department of Oncology and Hematology, Children’s Hospital Zagreb and the Department of Paediatrics, “Sisters of Charity Hospital”. Much preparation is needed to make these visits possible.
Before they start volunteering in the project, volunteers undergo training and a trial period during which they assess whether that is what they really want to do. Throughout the year,
volunteers participate in various training programmes in the field of psychology, acting and making puppets, and they learn about how to choose a story or adapt an existing one, to make puppets and what to pay attention to in the performance. Then follows the most important part – rehearsing and team preparation. When everything is ready, volunteers come to the department and perform the play for all children who can receive visits and their parents. Most often they visit the rooms of children and perform the play in the rooms, and sometimes they perform for more children in common spaces.
How does the visit of volunteers to the department look like? When the volunteers come, they first open the door and enter the child's room. And at that moment something miraculous happens! When they look at each other at that moment, they can’t recognize themselves anymore. One volunteer turns into a large dinosaur, the second into a princess, the third into a crybaby, and someone into a terrible wolf or a clumsy ape. While the red cape is flying behind Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel is letting her braid down the tower, the words of these stories come to life, and volunteers are telling these stories and acting.
This magic repeats itself every Tuesday and Wednesday. While volunteers jump into the skin of characters from various stories, children roar with laughter, they think of some ruse so that their character can be the hero of the story and fight for the rights of mischievous wolves and dinosaurs. Sometimes they cheer fot the good grandfather to pull the turnip, they worry about how the little mouse can escape from the big lion or they try to persuade the princess to keep the promise made to the frog. When the bear, turtle Tika, the noblest giant in the city or the unssatisfied ladybug enter the room, everything momentarily stops; the TV is turned off, children are very easy to give up their tablets and mobile phones, and a little adventure begins in the room.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays childhood is in full swing in the hospital. Volunteers often sing, and sometimes they play the guitar, and kids accompany them by playing other instruments or they join them in the singing. Then the sound of the song echoes in the corridors of the departments, and the nurses sometimes snap their fingers when they hear a well-known verse: “When you’re happy, snap your fingers!”
But volunteers sometimes see brave little lions in difficult moments filled with injections, examinations, treatments, their faces filled with pain and grief. Children sometimes have a difficult day, a day when it is hard for the brave lion to be so very brave. In those moments they remain together – volunteers, children and their stories. Together … so that this day gets a little bit better.
Drying the tears of the child’s face and seeing a smile stretched across the teeth that have just started coming in, is the greatest reward for all the effort the volunteers invest. They give their time, give their hands that sew puppets, their mind that comes up with a story, the voice that revives the play. And for the little they give, they receive the child’s smile and an applause from parents. This image resonates in the memory more than the most thunderous applause.
When the story is over, the volunteers leave the hospital with smiling faces. The 11 committed young people can say on that day: “We did something that meant a lot to these kids, we did something great.”