Giving Back: From Client to Volunteer

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It’s Tuesday morning. After a few tumultuous days at the hospital with her little son, a young mother decides to take up on the invitation of one of the RMHC volunteers, and visits the Ronald Mc Donald Family Room for the very first time. To her surprise she is greeted with a warm smile and a gentle voice ushering them in. “Would you like a warm sandwich and some of our delicious coffee while your child plays?” While her child plays in the Kid’s area, they start to talk about the past few days and how intense it has been. After so many nights of distress she slowly starts to feel at ease, as she senses that this person understands her ordeal. And our volunteers do, many have had similar experiences prior to becoming an RMCH volunteer.

It could happen to anyone. You think your child has the flu, but suddenly you find yourself on an airplane to The Netherlands with your heart in your throat, hoping your child makes it through. In 1996 Ivonne Giskus, who currently volunteers at the RMCH, experienced it first hand with her daughter. “At first it seemed like she was just feeling unwell. We went to her pediatrician, who thought it was just one of the many harmless viruses kids get. But it didn’t sit well with me. So, after a few days of observing her myself at home, I noticed how skinny she was becoming, so we rushed to the hospital where they took a blood sample. The next day the doctor called us and told us they had to do a bone marrow biopsy”, Ivonne recalls. Ivonne’s daughter, just 4 years old at that time, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, also known as blood cancer, and couldn’t be treated for that life-threatening disease at the hospital in Curaçao. Within a few days Ivonne and her husband had to arrange everything to be able go to a hospital in Groningen [The Netherlands]. Meanwhile her daughter had to stay at the hospital a few days. “In those days there were hardly any arrangements for children. Even the food wasn’t suitable, as she was given bread, which she could not eat. Sometimes a kindhearted nurse would sneak in baby-food for her to eat”, Ivonne explains. Soon after, Ivonne and her daughter travelled to The Netherlands. She was supported by her sister and her mother, but temporarily had to leave behind her husband and their baby boy. When they arrived at the hospital in Groningen, they were immediately brought to the Ronald McDonald House. Their stay at the Ronald McDonald House would eventually last 9 months. “That is how I realized how important the Ronald McDonald House Foundation is for parents of children that are very ill. We stayed in a small apartment with our own rooms and a kitchen, which helps families regain a sense of home while at the hospital”. The Ronald McDonald House in Groningen at that time had two persons that managed the facility, and the rest of the people were all volunteers.

“The volunteers were so important for us as parents. They put you at ease, make some coffee, come sit with you and just listen. As a parent in distress, you don’t even notice how much work the volunteers do. Which is logical. It is afterwards that you realize how many people volunteer their time just to make the children and their parents feel comfortable and at ease. When in Groningen I tried to help other parents from Curaçao as well, by bridging the cultural gap between them and the medical staff, which in a way also helped me cope with my own situation.”

Last year, Ivonne decided she wanted to give back to the Ronald McDonald House. Now that she volunteers there, she realizes even more how much effort is put into creating a comfortable and pleasant experience for the families. Volunteers do a lot of cleaning work, especially now with the pandemic, as everything needs to be disinfected even more thoroughly, in addition to offering a listening ear to the parents. “And not only that. We also offer advice to parents or refer them to the right organizations. We even call for them, especially families that travelled from other islands such as Sint Maarten or Bonaire. In their sadness sometimes a parent can’t even place a simple phone call, which is something we as volunteers are happy to help out with. When needed, we also refer them to the resident psychologist. It’s important to make sure that we work together with the nurses and hospital residents, to ensure that the complete experience is optimal. It would be great if we would have more volunteers in order to have more time to communicate with the parents, which could help us find out if any other kind of support is needed”.
Ivonne’s family has come full circle after the experiences in 1996. “I returned to the Ronald McDonald House in Groningen with my daughter when she was a bit older, in order for her to see where she had stayed at when she was being treated”. Fun Fact: Ivonne’s daughter has become a nurse, and has since returned to the RMCH in Groningen, among others as an intern, but also just to visit the facility. “It was a beautiful way for her to get some kind of closure. It’s truly important to heal after such an ordeal, as it is a traumatic experience for all that are involved. I truly like volunteering at RMHC, I always wanted to give back after having experienced such support.”

Each volunteer at Ronald Mc Donald House Charities Curaçao Foundation in their own special way offers support to families of children staying at the hospital for medical care. Their helping hands, listening ears and pro-active support are a source of comfort and ease for the families going through a difficult period of time while their child is receiving medical care at or through Curaçao Medical Center. Our volunteers freely offer their time and energy for which the RMHC is eternally grateful. More volunteers are needed to welcome and care for the families. Become a volunteer. Click here to register. Thank you!