Return from Africa

Emily Beauchemin left for Cape Town, South Africa, three months ago to volunteer as a child life specialist. We talked with her before she left, and she did us the courtesy of writing this upon her return.

“Wherever your may go, go with all of your heart.” –Confucius

Emily Beauchemin poses with a doll used to help children prepare for their medical procedures. It can be used to demonstrate a central line, skin grafts, hair loss and other situations the young patients will face.

How do you even go about describing an experience that has changed your life forever? When people have asked me about what my experience was like in South Africa, I could use many words: “beautiful,” “amazing,” “encouraging,” “vibrant,” and the list continues.  But not one word would sum up the depth of my journey in Cape Town, South Africa.  There are simply no words to paint the picture of the beautiful city and the time I spent working with children, families and the medical team at the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital.

Often in my life I have found that the days seem to march by so quickly without my notice to the date or time or day of the week that they are gone long before we have the chance to stop to say hello. Looking back on my time in Cape Town I wonder what happened to the last three months, how did they disappear so quickly?

The weeks on my calendar seemed to fly by so fast that I could never seem to keep up! Yet each day brought something new into my life; be it a new challenge, a new lesson, a new friend, or a new adventure, my life was constantly filled with moments that taught me more about myself and Child Life than I could have ever imagined.

Before going to Africa, I knew that I wanted to make a difference and somehow help these children and families who were facing one of the most traumatic times they may ever encounter. However, by working with each and every child and family, they gave me more than I could ever offer them. 

Every interaction that I encountered with a child and family they had a specific lesson to teach me; whether it was courage, strength, resiliency, love, patience, kindness or compassion, each one had something special to show me.

I distinctly remember my first week working in the burn ward at the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital, and I didn’t think that I was going to have the strength to give these families the supportive services that they needed. The Red Cross War Memorial Hospital admits roughly 250,000 children annually, 95% of which are underserved or indigenous. On the burn ward, children suffer from severe second and third degree burns, which are usually caused by a lack of education or the living conditions in the townships, which are informal, underdevelopment living areas.

Stepping into the burn treatment room for the first time to support a child during a dressing change was one of the most eye opening experiences that I will never forget. Minutes after I provided some comforting support and distraction for this child who was in critical pain, I was quickly enlightened and amazed to how resilient these children were, despite the disparities and tribulations they had gone through. Each and every day brought something new, and some days were harder than I could have ever imagined. But even with the tough days, each child brought something positive into my life, which I am beyond grateful for.

During my time spent at Red Cross War Memorial Hospital, a woman named Lauren Pech created a program called the Creative Arts Therapy and Wellness Program.  Her newly established program includes the disciplines of: child life, art therapy, aromatherapy, play therapy, music therapy, and yoga therapy. Through these non-medical disciplines Lauren’s goal is to provide a more holistic approach in meeting the needs of the child. By providing psychological and emotional support through a range of modalities, children will not only be able to cope more effectively, but they will also be able to heal quicker by bringing joy and fun into their lives. Lauren asked me as well as a colleague of mine, if we would like to come back to South Africa in order to join the Creative Arts team at the hospital.

What an honor and privilege I felt at the moment that we received this position. All along, I knew that my true passion lies in South Africa, and I knew that this is where I needed to be. Since the program is newly developed, we will have to seek out our own funding in order to pay for our salaries.

So with our grant proposal in our hands, and our hearts in South Africa, we aim to seek out funding for our positions as Child Life Specialists during the next several months. And as I get ready for this new, exciting, selfless journey, I challenge and encourage you to also pursue your dreams. Each and every moment that we are living, there is a change waiting to happen; whether it’s a change in yourself, or your views, the change in the life of a child, or simply change in your perception on things.  Whatever your true passion may be, I hope that you can seek it whole-heartedly, and never once doubt your capabilities on making a difference, because anything truly is possible.

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