My husband and I arrived back in Cuenca the middle of October 2012 after finally completing our residency visa and cedula. We were now residents of Ecuador and so excited to finally
be settled in our new home country!
There are many reasons to love Ecuador, but first and foremost are the Ecuadorian people. Soon after we arrived in an email from Gringo Tree, I saw the request from the foundation for volunteers to work with sick children in the Ludoteca at Hospitale Vincente Corral Moscoso. I knew this was something I could do! I have 35 years experience in healthcare as a respiratory therapist and hospital manager. I also worked many years in children’s ministry as a pastor’s wife.
I completed a much needed one week Spanish refresher course, and then met with Marcela, the fundacion director and fellow volunteer Gary at the Ludoteca.
I was immediately impressed by the fun, brightly painted wall murals, the natural sunlight pouring in, the large selection of toys, books, games and puzzles, the TV, dvds and computer, all there to help take the children’s minds off the reason they’re in the hospital.
I loved the wide eyed look of amazement on the children’s faces as they stepped inside! This world was a far cry from the rooms they left. Although bright and full of light from the windows that overlook the Andes mountains, none of the rooms had pretty murals on the walls, or TVs. Many of the children, unable to get out of bed languish there day after day, in some cases, week after week, with absolutely nothing to do. My volunteer partner Gary and I quickly realized how much we were needed.
Every Monday and Wednesday from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, we go room to room greeting the children and their parents, sharing hugs, and finding out what they would like to do. At times we make crafts. The most popular were sock puppets!
Utilizing white socks, markers, glue on eyes, and a little sparkle for extra pizazz, our little artists transformed these foot covers into “little people” with impressive mustaches and names like Pepe and Juan. The children able to come to the Ludateca loved to go with me from room to room to cheer up the children unable to get out of bed. Nothing makes children laugh more than puppets!
At Christmas time, I found neat coloring sheets and easy crafts to download and print out for the children to make. With the nurses permission, these works of art were taped over their beds, adding some Christmas cheer to their surroundings.
Another hit was Christmas bingo! I downloaded cards for the children to color, and then the games began...over and over and over again! I have never played so much Bingo in all my life. The children loved it! They also loved laughing at my pronunciation of some of the words I was calling out. They are helping me with my Spanish, and some of them love to learn the English equivalent.
Each child must have a parent with them at all times. So many of the parents look tired, and you know they are struggling to keep their little ones entertained. Many of them can’t afford toys. When we enter the room with a smile, hugs, and an offer to play with their children, you can see the relief and gratitude on their faces. There’s also no greater feeling than seeing a sad child, sometimes with tears streaming down their face, suddenly smile when you offer to play with them. It’s what makes it all worthwhile.
I’ve been volunteering for three months now, and I plan to keep doing it for as long as I live in Cuenca.
I’m also very excited that my good friend, Leslie Breen, a talented artist with a degree in theatre set design has volunteered to paint murals in each of the children’s rooms! Some other generous ex-pat friends have volunteered to pay for the paint.
There is a meeting planned soon with the physician in charge of the pediatrics unit to discuss proceeding with this project. What a boost this will be to the children’s morale to be able to look at a colorful picture of a favorite cartoon character or animal while lying in bed!
I would strongly encourage anyone with a love for children to seriously consider volunteering at the ludoteca. There’s no greater reward than the beautiful smile and warm hug from a grateful child.