Sometimes the hardest part about volunteering is getting too involved.
At first, giving your time seems like something that should go without saying. You have an extra few hours on the weekend, you go spend them with friends reading books to kids in the children’s cancer ward in Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital or drop by any number of the street kid organizations around Jakarta and pass the next two hours explaining how to conjugate the third person singular.
The next thing you know you’re hooked. The kids have wiggled their way into your heart and there’s no turning back. Their happiness is your happiness. Their achievements are yours. You feed off their successes and listen fixed when they ask questions about why we call a rupiah a rupiah or why a duck’s quack doesn’t echo. There’s an imprint on your heart, leaving you forever changed.
But it’s when something big happens, one of the children from the hospital passes away in the middle of the night or one of the street kids is abducted or becomes addicted to sniffing glue and disappears — that’s when things really come into perspective.
How do you keep trying to do good after something so bad happens? How do you drag yourself back to the hospital week after week when you know that the kids you’re reading to might not be there next week?
Perhaps no one knows this better than Three Little Angels and Blood for Life founder, Valencia “Silly” Mieke Randa, who has held the hand of dozens of mothers who have lost their babies to cancer and other horrible diseases.
“When a mother loses her child, it’s heartbreaking,” says Silly, whose foundation not only counsels mothers, but also helps lift the financial burden of funerals. “For the volunteer there’s a sudden juxtaposition of closeness to the child and the family as well as tremendous loss.”
That’s when volunteers play their biggest role. Sometimes you have to be strong, not because you want to, but because other people depend on that strength. The gratitude and thanks of the families, Silly says, serves as energy for volunteers.
“It makes volunteers feel like they’re on the right track and that we can’t stop here. There are so many children and families who simply need hope.
“We don’t bring with us some kind of magic, but we come with a little hope and let the parents and kids know they’re not alone, that there’s a love that flows from us to them, a love that might help alleviate a little of the pain. Our love brings hope and the spirit to not give up easily. In return, we feel good by doing good things.”
Recently, the volunteers at Cipto Mangunkusumo lost a little boy named Taufan.
Taufan, who had just turned 7, had been fighting leukemia for more than two years. And up until a week ago it looked like he was winning.
He had grown so strong in fact, that he only made occasional visits to the hospital, where when he would arrive he would be given a bed in room 113, which doctors, nurses and volunteers all know is the room recovering kids get to stay in. Being placed in room 113 essentially means you are not sick, you’re only stopping in for a bit of chemo and a check up.
Taufan was so proud of not being sick anymore — his hair and eyebrows were just starting to grow back — that when he and his mom made the trip from their home in Bekasi, he didn’t even wait for them to show him to room 113. Taufan confidently strolled right in while his mom filled out paperwork and got him checked in. He even refused to go to the other six rooms in the ward, insisting that he was getting better and did not want to go to the rooms where sick kids went.
Then, Thursday two weeks ago, on his birthday, Taufan, who was receiving chemotherapy, fell unconscious. He never woke up, and died the next Wednesday at 4 a.m.
To say these things happen is to dehumanize Taufan. Sure, we hope his mother takes what happened to her son as an opportunity for her to rise above the tragedy and use Taufan’s legacy as a way for her to join Three Little Angels or another support organization and come back to the hospital where her son died to counsel and console other mothers. It may happen. It may not. No one but Taufan’s mom can make that choice.
Volunteers have a very similar choice. When things get bad — when they get worse than bad — volunteers can either throw in the towel and quit or simply use that pain to do more good in the world.
Taufan’s legacy can stay with us the rest of our lives, when we are too tired or too busy to help we can think of him and remember how he used to jump up and down on the gurney in 113 giggling and playing until the nurses had to ask him in a matronly way to please stop and let the kids who were not feeling as well as him have some peace and quiet.
The day before Taufan died, he lay in the children’s intensive care unit at Cipto, his seven-year-old heart racing to keep him alive.
“I’m not sure what else to do,” Taufan’s mother said holding his tiny hand in hers as the heart monitor beeped. She had no idea 12 hours later her son would breathe his last breath. She bit her lip and blinked away tears.
No one ever knows what else to do. And Taufan and his mother’s courage are not ours. But we get involved anyway, regardless of the outcome.
The only thing we can do—as volunteers and as human beings—is to keep doing what we know in our hearts to be the right thing. We keep kindness in the picture and we keep helping where we can. Because in the end, all we have is one another.
Maybe getting too involved is a good thing after all.