Emily Beauchemin still hasn’t packed her bags, though her flight leaves in just four days for Cape Town, South Africa, where she will spend three months volunteering as a child life specialist at theRed Cross War Memorial Hospital.
“There’s a lot more to being a child life specialist than just play,” she said at a Wednesday night meeting of the Union County Red Cross Women of Hope (or as they call themselves, the Woo Hoos).
Emily, 23, told the group that she will be working with children who are facing everything from minor procedures to terminal illness. In her role, she will help young patients prepare for their procedures and provide psychological and emotional support. Child life specialists help ease a child’s fear and anxiety through therapeutic and recreational activites.
The Woo Hoos brought bags and bags of toys, books and other items to ship to Cape Town. Those items will be used to help children during their time in the hospital.
“Doctors can tend to focus on the pain,” Emily explained. “We’re there to help the child get a sense of control over what’s going to happen through giving them choices. For example, we ask them if they would rather read a book or picture their ‘happy place’ during a procedure.”
Child life specialists also advocate for family-centered care and consider the needs of siblings of the sick child.
“We also do bereavement support,” she said, noting that she will be helping some children with terminal illnesses build scrapbooks and memories for their families. “Many South African families can’t afford a camera, so getting pictures of their child is like gold.”
The Red Cross War Memorial Hospital is the only freestanding children’s hospital in South Africa. While Emily will encounter children facing all sorts of situations, she knows there is a high concentration of burn victims.
Emily is going to Cape Town through a program called Connect 123, which helps students and young professionals find international internships and volunteer opportunities. While Connect led Emily to South Africa, she’s the one financing the trip.
“I have worked at a preschool for the last five months saving every penny for this trip,” she said. “I’m excited to start working.”
We will be following Emily’s journey through her blog. Good luck, Emily, we’re excited to watch you make a huge difference in the lives of so many!