I arrived at the SACH house early on a Wednesday morning, very unsure of what to expect: I did not know any other volunteers, did not really know much of what would be expected of me, and certainly did not know how I would adjust to living with many others from all over the world who most likely would not be able to communicate with me in English.
Almost instantly, I was welcomed into the home by staff, volunteers, mothers, and, most importantly, the kids. I met everyone, settled in nicely, and began my three and a half week volunteering session. After the first day, most of which was spent with the children and their mothers, I was in amazement at how smoothly it went: I could not speak any of the languages, but I had not once noticed a communication barrier. I did not need to know Swahili to know that Abeli from Tanzania was thrilled with the puzzle that we put together because his giggle made that clear, and I did not need to understand Portuguese to know that Andre from Angola wanted to watch the Lion King because his pointing to the TV and chanting Simba was more than enough. I began to realize that becoming close to the people living in the house would involve more than just speaking, aside from the universal terms such as kulala (Swahili: “sleep”), and balagan (Hebrew: “chaos”). During my time at the SACH house, I grew to love the children and people with whom I worked, even if I could not even ask them how their day was going or what they ate for lunch that day.
When I arrived at the home, most of the children had not yet had their surgeries. Some of them seemed like perfectly healthy kids, playing in the backyard with toys, constantly laughing, and dancing around. This surprised me a bit, and we were told that even though some of the children may seem well, they need to relax as much as possible as their hearts cannot take the exertion. There were other children who were clearly too weak to exert themselves at all. I remember one day, one of our boys, Daudi, from Tanzania, ran around for a minute or so, after which he immediately sat on the stairs with his chest pounding, trying to calm down his system because he was so uncomfortable. Daudi decided to take up art, and made beautiful pictures and drawings, since he clearly could not run and play outside much.
Most of these children had their surgeries while I was still living in the home. It was amazing to see the difference before and after their operations. Daudi came home from surgery, and almost instantly became the ten year old he always wanted to be. Even though he is now a bit of a mischievous child (enjoys running around the house in circles, throwing things around the backyard) it was so beautiful to see the change. He can now do things that he probably was never able to do before, and his operation has opened up a whole new world for him. I noticed this with so many of the children. They immediately had new energy that would fill a whole new life ahead of them.
Working at SACH has opened my eyes to a lot of things, and has made me learn much about myself and others. I was able to spend time and become close with children who I will most likely never see again, but who I was able to see get well. It has been an invaluable experience, one I would not change at all, if only to spend more time at the home. SACH is truly creating a new life for these children and their families, and I am so thankful that I was able to take part and experience this first hand.