THE LITTLE CAT SMILED
Sometimes children have a difficult day. For example, one time we came into the room of a little girl who was crying in her mother’s arms and was nervous because of the long and painful day. At the beginning of the performance she was crying and showing resistance; but as the performance progressed, her attention increasingly focused on cat puppets, and she slowly calmed down. As we try each time to adjust the play (as much as we can) to children who watch our performance in the room, this time we tried, through characters of cats, to send a message of being courageous and overcoming difficulties in order to calm the girl. After the performance she was no longer crying, but looking with eyes wide open at puppets and she asked if she could “reach out her hand to pet the cat” and play around with it. Drying the tears of the child’s face and a smile stretched across her mouth, is a priceless feeling. The feeling that we remember even today.
A BOX THAT IS NOT A BOX
About three years ago one little girl came to the department, she was a little more than 15 months old, and was sitting in a room in her parent’s arms. As every week, we knocked on the door and asked: “Are you in the mood for a story?” Then we went in with a cardboard box from a TV, which represented the screen, and performed the story of Sockman.The girl was looking at us over the corner of her eye and was watching the play over her mother’s shoulder, and after the story was over she found courage and played with puppets made of socks. From that day a whole year passed, and that whole time she was in the hospital and listened to our stories. The girl then returned to her home, and her mother told us once that, from that day onwards, whenever she sees a cardboard box, she shouts: “Mom, look, the play!”
DO YOU BELIEVE ME NOW?
While we performed the stories in “Klaićeva hospital”, in a large room of the Department of Oncology, one happy playful boy would usually welcome us. Always talkative and ready to play, he took part in the activities after the performance. As we developed, we also got new ideas. So in November 2013, we launched our own Facebook page. Many received the news with joy, but the boy particularly cheered up. When he opened our site on his laptop, he exclaimed with excitemment, raising his hands in the air. “That’s really making you happy,” I said to him, surprised, and then he explained to me: “You see, every week I let my brother know if there was a performance at the department, and I tell him that I watched the performance. And he says every time that I lie, because it is impossible that someone is putting on a perfromance every week in the hospital. Now I’ll finally be able to prove that I was telling the truth!”
SAINT NICHOLAS KNOWS
The arrival of Saint Nicholas at any children’s department is a great experience. We’ll be honest with you, this is not only a big event for children but for us who are giggling all the way to the room as well, for parents who show us their polished boots, even for nurses who greet us on that day with the words: “I’ve been good this year!”. Last year, in 2015, while we were moving around the department, a father greeted us in the hallway with a sigh of relief: “Thank God you prepared Saint Nicholas for today. My little one has been sad all week, because he is worried that Saint Nicholas would come to our house and leave a gift for him there. He is convinced that Saint Nicholas does not know the way to the hospital. When he sees you, he will be better! Imagine, he did not want to put a message he wrote into the boot, but asked us to stick it on the window.” We were so curios, so we asked him what the boy wished in his letter to Saint Nicholas. “He asked for a salami sandwich, that is his favourite, he would eat that all the time.”
When the father returned to the room, we looked at each other and we knew that we were thinking the same thing. We would go to the store and buy all the ingredients for his favourite sandwich. How could we not? How not to fulfill such a modest, little wish? Once we had all the ingredients carefully saved in Saint Nicholas’ sack, the performance could begin. It was a legend about a saint that leaves poor girls sacks of gold coins under the window so that their fathers would not make them get married to those that they do not want to marry. In the room volunteers acted as father and daughter, and the part in which Saint Nicholas comes into the room was approaching. When the father and daughter went to bed, Saint Nicholas slowly opened the door of the room and slowly stepped inside, relying on his rod.
The boy’s eyes at that moment were as big as two worlds. Startled he looked at Saint Nicholas and was lost for words. Usually talkative, now he could not find words. He looked at his mother, and than at Saint Nicholas, looking at them in wonder. We continued to perform approaching the part when Saint Nicholas opens his sack. First, the coins which the saint left the girl for dowry rattled. “But there is one more thing left in my sack. Boy, will you help me take out what's in there?” asked Saint Nicholas. The boy pulled out a sandwich and, realizing that his wish was fulfilled, he looked towards the window and then at his mother who was sitting beside the bed.
“Saint Nicholas knew. Saint Nicholas has brought what I wanted. It’s really Saint Nicholas!” Dear boy, yes, that’s the real Saint Nicholas. Maybe that was a volunteer of the Centre under the beard and the cap who deepened her voice not to sound like a man, and maybe she walked slowly so that you think that it is an old man. But it was at that moment that she was the real Saint Nicholas for you. “The realest” that can be – one that leaves speechless, puts a smile on your face… one that fulfilles wishes stuck to the window of one children’s hospital room.
THERE IS THIS ONE MOMENT
Each volunteer has a story. As every story has a beginning, its peaks, its plot twists and outcomes, this is also the case with the story of every volunteer. I'll tell you about one peak, the moment I started to believe in this project.
The beginning of my volunteering was a joyful event. I saw children laughing during the performance, talking to us, parents asking questions and how all the kids wanted us to be near their bed. “But how much do we really help? What effect does this have?” are questions that I would ask myself from time to time. Sometimes on Tuesdays I would be overwhelmed by emotions and feeling joyful when leaving the hospital, but I would also wonder whether we could help at all. How much can one story mean to a child suffering from malignant disease? Fortunately, I did not wait long for the answer.
After one of the performances we gave, as usual, we hung out with the kids. I noticed a boy and a girl who did not communicate with each other. They were very shy. I decided to encourage them to play together. I stood between their beds and began to acquaint them with one character from the story. They both engaged in the conversation with the character, but not with each other. Soon the character started to act completely silly, began to hide behind me, to tease the boy and the girl, began to ask the toys they had on the bed to play with him. Of course, I was managing the character hoping the two of them would unite in order to outsmart the character.
The boy and the girl were completely drawn into the merry game. In order to catch the mischievous character, they came to the edge of their beds, pulled themselves up, trying to cross the edges of the beds. Their mothers both quietly helped. To avoid interrupting the game, with their hands they held the tubes through which their children received medications, because in that way their children could easily move around the bed. They did it quietly so that the children could play undisturbed, they did not care that they were sitting in an awkward position or that they had to concentrate on two things at once. They did everything for the sake of their children’s game. And it ended in success – the boy and the girl won over the mischievous character, and then decided to show me their toys. To me, but also to each other. It did not take long for them to start playing together.
I walked out of that room happy and with the feeling, often created by volunteering, that I did something special that day. But I forgot something, so I had to go back into the room. I made it unnoticed to anyone not to interrupt anything, and then I heard a mother saying to another moter:
Do you see how they play together? It’s so much better when the volunteers come… Then they look so much better.
Those are the words that will remain forever etched in my memory.
That moment was the moment when I started to really believe in the power and strength of this project. There is no stronger evidence than the words of two devoted mothers who tell you how you made their children’s day brighter. “It’s so much better when the volunteers come…”
POEM BY BARBARA VUKAS
the time will come
when everything will be alright
when there will be no sadness and pain
in yourt heart and your body.
When tears will not wet the eyes
but the eyes will laugh
and be full of happiness.
In the little heads there will be no black-and- white pictures
nor the horrors of life
but butterflies and the beauty of eternal love.
They don’t fear the pain
they aren’t afraid of anything.
Because they are heroes.
GREAT STRENGHT lies in these little hearts
I believe that the rewards for suffering are greater than the pain.
And that the lives of little heroes from the Oncology department
will one day, after all this, be filled with HAPPINESS.
Barbara is a girl who would often welcome us with some creative ideas and concepts. Once she welcomed us with this beautiful poem and courageously shared it with us, you and the rest of the world.
THE STORY ABOUT THE EASTER BUNNY
Marta is a girl who attends the 6th grade of primary school and likes writing stories. When we would perform at the department, she would always listen to the stories and adventures of various characters with a great interest. Once we asked her if we she would write a story that we could perform in front of other children in the hospital. And very soon the story was waiting for us – it was a story about the first Easter egg and the second Easter egg, the bunny, the hedgehog and the owl. We prepared ourselves, rehearsed and started. On that
day, however, Marta was transferred to another department and we did not know whether we will be able to visit her. Fortunately, the nurses let us in the department, and in the middle of the waiting room in front of the room sat a girl. It was a girl who was sharing the room with Martha and eagerly waiting for us. We entered the room and we performed, and then the little girl from the waiting room asked to perform the story again together with her. Martha, thank you for the words you gave us and a beautiful story!
IN THE EARLY MORNING, WHILE THE BUNNY WAS STILL SLEAPING, THE EASTER EGGS WOKE UP AND DECIDED TO TAKE A WALK IN THE FOREST.
FIRST EASTER EGG: AAAA (YAWNING) LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL THE WEATHER IS OUTSIDE, WE COULD TAKE A WALK.
SECOND EASTER EGG: WOW, LOOK AT THAT LOVELY FLOWER!
FIRST EASTER EGG: LOOK AT THE OTHER ONE, IT’S MUCH MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOURS!
AFTER THAT EACH EASTER EGG WENT TOWARDS THE FLOWER THEY LIKED AND GOT LOST.
THE BUNNY WAKES UP.
BUNNY: AAAAA (YAWNING).
BUNNY: WHERE ARE MY EASTER EGGS? I’M SURE I LEFT THEM HERE. MAYBE THEY WENT OUT! CHILDREN, HAVE YOU MAYBE SEEN THEM?
BUNNY: MAYBE I SHOULD GO AND ASK THE WISE OWL, SHE MUST HAVE SEEN THEM.
THE BUNNY GOES TO THE OWL AND ASKS WHETHER IT HAS SEEN THE EASTER EGGS.
BUNNY: HEY, OWL! HEY, OWL! ARE YOU HERE? I NEED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING!
OWL: DON’T YOU KNOW THAT SUCH BEAUTIFUL OWLS, AS I AM, GET THEIR BEAUTY SLEEP DURING THE DAY?
BUNNY: I KNOW, BUT THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! MY EASTER EGGS GOT LOST, AND EASTER IS COMING SOON.
OWL: WELL, I THOUGHT THAT YOU CAN HEAR WELL WITH SUCH LONG EARS, BECAUSE I HAVE JUST TOLD YOU THAT I SLEEP DURING THE DAY TO BE BEAUTIFUL.
BUNNY: OH, I APPOLOGIZE, I’M SCARED FOR MY EASTER EGGS (AND TURNS HIS HEAD SADLY).
OWL: MAYBE WE COULD GO AND LOOK FOR THEM SOMEWHERE IN THE FOREST… I WILL GO LEFT, AND YOU GO RIGHT.
BUNNY: THAT’S A GREAT PLAN! I THINK WE WILL FIND THEM SOON.
THE BUNNY AND THE OWL WENT LOOKING FOR THE EASTER EGGS ALL AROUND THE FOREST.
OWL: WHERE COULD THESE EASTER EGGS BE?
THE HEDGEHOG COMES OUT OF A HOLE IN A TREE.
OWL: GOOD AFTERNOON, MR. HEDGEHOG. HAVE YOU MAYBE SEEN ANY EASTER EGGS HERE IN THE FOREST?
HEDGEHOG: WELL, EVERYBODY SAW THE EASTER EGGS ON EASTER DAY, BUT WHY WOULD I CARE ABOUT THE EASTER EGGS. I AM NOT THE EASTER HEDGEHOG TO KNOW WHERE THEY ARE! I AM JUST INTERESTED IN APPLES AND PEARS.
OWL: I KNOW, BUT APPLES AND PEARS GROW IN AUTUMN, AND NOT IN SPRING.
OWL: OK, I AM GOING HOME, MAYBE THE BUNNY HAD MORE LUCK.
THE BUNNY CAME HOME AND SAW HIS EASTER EGGS.
BUNNY: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU EVERYWHERE AND I WAS VERY SCARED.
EASTER EGGS: WE WERE SO ENGROSSED IN THE FLOWERS THAT WE WENT DEEP INTO THE FOREST, AND WE COULD’T FIND OUR WAY BACK.
BUNNY: NEXT TIME YOU HAVE TO LET ME KNOW IF YOU WILL GO SOMEWHERE, AND NOT JUST DISSAPEAR WITHOUT TELLING ME. BUT, THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT YOU CAME BACK AND THAT WE WILL HAVE A NORMAL EASTER.
EASTER EGGS: NOW WE WILL GO ONLY WHERE YOU ARE GOING, BUNNY.