Child patients have very specific needs compared to adults. That’s why our reception table is lower than normal, why we have so much colour on our walls and why our windows are imperfect circles. A big component of making the hospital child-friendly is our volunteer programme. Our volunteers go above and beyond to make parents and children as comfortable as possible. They also help us with our welcome packs, which is something our little heroes love and appreciate.
All of this is led by Agnes Kambira, affectionately known as Mama Aggie. We spoke to her about the crucial role that volunteers play at NMCH.
Why is having volunteers so important for NMCH?
There’s more to healing than just medicine. At NMCH we understand that a child’s happiness is important for the process too. And then there are the worried parents who don’t know how to help their children. That’s where our volunteers come in.
We saw a need for parents who could use that kind of help; help from somebody who is not connected to the medicine. A person who just comes around and says, “How can I help? Let’s go drink a cup of coffee.” In our volunteer programme we’re looking for individuals that have the need to give back but sometimes don’t know how. They do not have a medical background, so they can’t press the right buttons for that child to heal, but they want to be there for you.
How did you find yourself in this role?
I don’t have a clinical background. My background is in HR in the financial services industry. The reason why I came to NMCH is really just for the love of people. You know that term ‘ubuntu’? It’s not something that you are taught. It’s something I just feel that you wake up with.
When a child is crying, for whatever reason, it touches my heart. I want to give my lunch, I want to give money, I want to know how can we make this child happy. I’m a mother. I’ve had kids who’ve been ill. I’ve had kids who’ve been hurt. I’ve experienced all of those things. So I know when a mother is in a bad space because their child is not okay.
What should people know about volunteering before signing up?
Volunteering is not as easy as people think it is. There are a lot of things that we look for from a person. Outside of just the time that you have that you want to offer, we want more than that. We want you. We want to understand who you are, your background, your passion and what makes you want to give your time. That’s where we start our volunteer conversations.
So what are some reasons you might not select someone who signs up?
You’d be surprised. People have got all sorts of reasons for wanting to give of their time. Some are good reasons and unfortunately some are not-so-good reasons, especially when it comes to children. You may find that a person has lost a child and has become passionate about loving other children. It’s good for that person but it’s possibly not good for that child because their reasons for loving that child are not purely about love, but rather trying to heal themselves. So we wouldn’t accept someone who may want to go through their healing journey via volunteering to help our children. Our children at the hospital are very precious, just like any other child is. So we need to make sure that whoever is going to be around our child is going to give their best.