Every day counts
We deliver psychological support to children with cancers in hospitals - says Oana Rusu, Operation Manager. We work with 170 trained volunteers, coordinated by specialists: psychologists, sociologists. Every child diagnosed with cancer in Romania can benefit from our services.
Little People is a recognized organization putting a lot of effort in supporting children with cancer. But their work doesn't end in the hospital.
We build a community of cancer survivors, unique in Europe. We started in Cluj-Napoca with two survivors and now we have 400 of them across Romania. It got famous also abroad, so people from other countries come here to learn. It's very important to give voice to survivors, create for them a space to speak, to be heard, to talk about their rights.
And to support those who are still in the hospital. Becoming a survivor is a huge motivation for other children to keep fighting.
It’s so important to see somebody who went through the same experience and can tell you how it was. Survivors are amazing and empowering them is a crucial part of our work. Every year we have two main events for survivors: the camp and the Christmas gala. We show photos from events to the children in hospitals, they want to join, they want to be survivors. Some of them know each other, they met survivors in the hospitals, when they had been still fighting. Seeing them, surrounded by others in a different setting, celebrating their life… this is a miracle.
This miracle was possible thanks to one person who believed things can be different.
Katie Rizvi and her husband came to Cluj-Napoca in 1996. She saw kids at the oncological institute, she decided to help for a few months. After half a year she realized there was much work to be done. She started to collaborate with the university of psychology in Cluj, she trained the first volunteers. They helped the children to understand the procedure, the pain, taught them how to express feelings, and prepared them for coming back to society. It grew fast, people were amazed. In 2008 we started to offer the service in other cities.
Although the beginning was not that easy.
It’s about openness. Katie at the beginning spoke with one doctor, telling about her vision and the doctor said she was a big dreamer, he did not believe in the idea. But after some time he came back and said: “I have to apologize, when I heard you talking about this project I thought you are so young, a dreamer, but you proved it's possible, everything you told me has become reality”. And in this reality we treat our job seriously, we have contracts with hospitals, but also with volunteers. They sign a contract for one year and come twice a week for two hours to the hospital.
It's actually not a piece of cake to become a volunteer.
You need to understand how important child safety is. It’s not about somebody who wakes up one day and decides to do good. If you plant a tree, it grows, you get bored of taking care, it dries; you can say I'm sorry. But a child is so vulnerable, we don’t play with their safety. You impact somebody’s life, it’s too important. That's why volunteers go through a professional and quite tough selection process. They send us a letter of intention, their CV, we interview them to see if they fit our organization profile. If they are selected, they go through a training course for about three months and only then they go to the hospital and meet children. Most of them come from a psychology university, they have specific knowledge and skills to help those children in a very specific situation. Teach them how to swallow pills, speak about their body, communicate. We have amazing volunteers. In every city we have a slightly different profile. For example in Bucharest, as it is the capital city, we have a lot of people who joined being professional in their own field, like managers, accountants. We accepted them because we saw the potential. It's also important that kids are in contact with diverse personalities and they can learn different things from different people.
If during the training you realize working directly with children it's emotionally too difficult for you, you can still help in many other ways, like fundraising, creating program materials or marketing. But whatever job you do, children are always the main focus.
We have the program “I’m not afraid”, with a brave lion who encourages kids to fight and have courage. We can't forget that above all they are children, we cannot expect them to act as mature people. Playing is the language of children, so we play with them, but behind this playing there is a very structured program which helps to convince kids to take a pill or express their fear. When they come for the first time it's easy to work with them. But we know that the cancer experience means a lot of chemotherapy, a lot of coming back to the hospital, we need to prepare them for the whole journey, so they fight till the end of the treatment. In the training we also teach volunteers that every day counts. You will see children not in good shape, but you have to make their day to be the best day. And tomorrow is another best day. Some parents come to us to ask if we can teach them our approach. We are trained to talk with them as well, help them understand all procedures. Some parents are so shocked, so damaged, we try to teach them: If you want to do something for your child you need to be strong, the child has to see you strong. We also suggest to them how to relate with doctors, how to get information. How to handle the situation, step by step.
Small steps, small moments are what really matters.
Sometimes it happens to us to work with children, to encourage them but we don’t realize how important those few words we tell them. You go home, do your stuff. Then we meet them in the survivors meeting and they tell us: “Do you remember this moment you told me I can do it? It was so important for me”. Our name is Little People not because we work with children, but because we believe you can be little but you can help, be involved and do your part in the world.
More about Little People: thelittlepeople.ro