Dubai — A recently launched programme at the Al Jalila Children’s Speciality Hospital is transforming volunteers into “superheroes” who share the “super powers” of creativity and happiness with children being treated at the hospital.
The new programme, ‘Abtal Al Jalila’ (heroes of Al Jalila), was first launched in August 2017 by Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Happiness, who was listed as volunteer number one of the programme.
Around 400 volunteers have registered in the programme over the last five months, with 60 active so-called superheroes who regularly visit the hospital, Dr. Mohamed Al Awadhi, Chief Operating Officer at Al Jalila Children’s Hospital, told Gulf News.
“We don’t want this place to be just a hospital, we want it to be a place where children can come and feel better and feel at home. Everything we do here — from the rooms to the waiting areas — is child-friendly. We try as much as we can to eliminate the stress of being in a hospital, with small things like gadgets, play therapy, the entertainment centre, and our superheroes,” said Dr Al Awadhi.
Volunteers at the programme take turns to interact with children in any of the hospital’s five departments; the heart centre for excellence, kidney centre for excellence, critical care centre, neuro sciences department, and the mental health department.
“We have volunteers that sit and colour with children who are undergoing a dialysis treatment, while others interact with children in the waiting area before seeing a doctor. The main aim is to make them feel comfortable and put a smile on their face,” said Dr Al Awadhi.
Most volunteers are given activity paper sheets and colouring books to interact with the children, while others prefer to use their talents of playing an instrument, or showcase their skills at balloon-bending, etc. Children also have the option of being accompanied by a volunteer to play on an iPad or on the PlayStation at the entertainment centre.
“The volunteers’ main role is to provide positive interactions with both patients and families, and to assist wherever needed,” said Dr Al Awadhi.
Gulf News spoke to two of the hospital’s superheroes during an exclusive tour of the hospital who take time out of their busy schedule to spend with the children.
Tina Modarresi, 31, from Iran, has been volunteering at the hospital for over three months.
“I really like social work and I came across an article and saw that Al Jalila hospital needs volunteers, so I applied online and a couple of weeks later, I was contacted,” said Modarresi.
She pointed out that before joining the programme, volunteers were briefed during a seminar where they were informed about the hospital’s rules and regulations along with their roles as superheroes, and the dos and don’ts.
“We have very nice uniforms, along with a cape. You feel how special it is when you wear it, because people — especially children — start asking you what it is. We are actually superheroes to the children and that is how they know us and connect with us,” said Modarresi.
She pointed out that she likes to think of herself as a superhero with many super powers. She enjoys colouring, drawing, reading, and even chatting with the children at the waiting areas.
Meanwhile, Iranian Maryam Mansouri, 35, said she comes in once or twice a week, often to visit her favourite patient, baby Reem.
“I have been volunteering at the hospital since September of last year, and my favourite patient is a five-year-old with double kidney failure. She previously had spent time with other volunteers, but ended up connecting with me and finally chose me to be her superhero,” said Mansouri.
She pointed out that other volunteering programmes she had taken part in were not very organised, and often made her feel more sad than helpful.
“With Al Jalila’s programme, there are timings, an orientation system, and volunteers are introduced to the children and the parents. You are able to help the patients feel better and be involved without being invasive or useless,” explained Mansouri.
Teaching baby Reem everything from numbers and animals to colours, Mansouri said her aim is to provide support not only to the patients but also to their parents who often spend long periods of time at the hospital with no one to talk to.
“I have lived in Dubai since I was three-years-old, so its home to me. What got me interested in volunteering is the thought that I am in a country that has given me so much, and I wanted to do something to give back,” said Mansouri.
How to become a volunteer
To join the programme, volunteers must register at the hospital’s reception at the main entrance or online at www.aljalilachildrens.ae.
Once all documents are provided, the volunteer must wait for a call to confirm that security clearance has been approved.
The volunteer is then asked to read out loud an initiation oath, after which they are given their superhero cape and the official title of an Al Jalila Hero. All volunteers must be over 16 years old.
Al Jalila Children’s Speciality Hospital was launched in November 2016, created under the directives of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.
The hospital has 200 beds, and five main departments, with plans to launch an oncology centre this year. It is the first dedicated children’s hospital in the UAE, and aims to achieve Shaikh Mohammad’s vision of making it among the top 10 paediatric hospitals in the world.
“Previously in the UAE, any child with a serious illness could not find a place to be treated here and had to travel abroad. This created a lot of tension in the family, as well as a financial burden. Thus, this hospital was created as Shaikh Mohammad believes in the right for children to have access to premium medical care wherever they are,” said Dr Al Awadhi.