As a volunteer with McMaster Smiling Over Sickness (SOS), I spend alternate Wednesday evenings at the McMaster Children’s Hospital. In a team of four, I help to facilitate arts and crafts activities, which require minimal skill, for kids of all ages. The aim is to engage children in creativity and self-expression, particularly because art is proven to positively impact an individual’s mental health and stress levels (1).
Some shifts are slow; we pique the interest of perhaps one or two children passing by. But the more memorable ones are those that are delightfully hectic—on such evenings, our two small tables are strewn with arts materials, construction paper, and Crayola markers. Four volunteers are no match for the overwhelming excitement of the eager children.
Whether they are 3 or 13, kids are a pleasure to work with. They find joy in the simplest of things, revelling in even the smallest wonders of the world. Children in the hospital are no different: they are so open to taking risks and trying new things, with relentless persistence. Even though the kids often cannot make their crafts perfectly, they take struggles in stride, eager to try their best and learn. They often add their own ‘twists’ to the art, choosing to give their paper cats a sparkly skirt, or adorn their felt turkeys with hats. This originality and desire to be unique is striking.
I also admire how eager they are to connect with others: once, a young girl approached us and introduced all the other kids in the room as her “best friends.” The children readily converse with the SOS volunteers, even though we may be complete strangers. University campuses are teeming with cynical students that are weary of the world, so the trust and warmth with which these children approach us is refreshing and humbling.
Moreover, the welcoming atmosphere in the building never fails to surprise me—the stereotypically cold and dreary view of a hospital could not be farther from the truth. In fact, silence is rare in the crafts room; it is not uncommon to hear ringing laughter, the chatter of a family over dinner, or soothing notes drifting over from the piano. Within this space, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and belonging.
My point is this: it is important to realize that children in the hospital are still children, despite any illnesses they may have. Far too often, we discredit their capacities, seeing them merely as the helpless objects of our pity. In truth, they are just as capable of creating, connecting, and laughing. They are not isolated beings. They forge their own community, and through their open-heartedness and acceptance, make the hospital human. They help each other heal.
Perhaps we should learn to do the same.
Stuckey, Heather. (2010, February). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/
Written by PARNIKA GODKHINDI / Image source