Return from Africa

Emily Beauchemin left for Cape Town, South Africa, three months ago to volunteer as a child life specialist. We talked with her before she left, and she did us the courtesy of writing this upon her return.

“Wherever your may go, go with all of your heart.” –Confucius

Emily Beauchemin poses with a doll used to help children prepare for their medical procedures. It can be used to demonstrate a central line, skin grafts, hair loss and other situations the young patients will face.

How do you even go about describing an experience that has changed your life forever? When people have asked me about what my experience was like in South Africa, I could use many words: “beautiful,” “amazing,” “encouraging,” “vibrant,” and the list continues.  But not one word would sum up the depth of my journey in Cape Town, South Africa.  There are simply no words to paint the picture of the beautiful city and the time I spent working with children, families and the medical team at the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital.

Often in my life I have found that the days seem to march by so quickly without my notice to the date or time or day of the week that they are gone long before we have the chance to stop to say hello. Looking back on my time in Cape Town I wonder what happened to the last three months, how did they disappear so quickly?

The weeks on my calendar seemed to fly by so fast that I could never seem to keep up! Yet each day brought something new into my life; be it a new challenge, a new lesson, a new friend, or a new adventure, my life was constantly filled with moments that taught me more about myself and Child Life than I could have ever imagined.

Before going to Africa, I knew that I wanted to make a difference and somehow help these children and families who were facing one of the most traumatic times they may ever encounter. However, by working with each and every child and family, they gave me more than I could ever offer them. 

Every interaction that I encountered with a child and family they had a specific lesson to teach me; whether it was courage, strength, resiliency, love, patience, kindness or compassion, each one had something special to show me.

I distinctly remember my first week working in the burn ward at the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital, and I didn’t think that I was going to have the strength to give these families the supportive services that they needed. The Red Cross War Memorial Hospital admits roughly 250,000 children annually, 95% of which are underserved or indigenous. On the burn ward, children suffer from severe second and third degree burns, which are usually caused by a lack of education or the living conditions in the townships, which are informal, underdevelopment living areas.

Stepping into the burn treatment room for the first time to support a child during a dressing change was one of the most eye opening experiences that I will never forget. Minutes after I provided some comforting support and distraction for this child who was in critical pain, I was quickly enlightened and amazed to how resilient these children were, despite the disparities and tribulations they had gone through. Each and every day brought something new, and some days were harder than I could have ever imagined. But even with the tough days, each child brought something positive into my life, which I am beyond grateful for.

During my time spent at Red Cross War Memorial Hospital, a woman named Lauren Pech created a program called the Creative Arts Therapy and Wellness Program.  Her newly established program includes the disciplines of: child life, art therapy, aromatherapy, play therapy, music therapy, and yoga therapy. Through these non-medical disciplines Lauren’s goal is to provide a more holistic approach in meeting the needs of the child. By providing psychological and emotional support through a range of modalities, children will not only be able to cope more effectively, but they will also be able to heal quicker by bringing joy and fun into their lives. Lauren asked me as well as a colleague of mine, if we would like to come back to South Africa in order to join the Creative Arts team at the hospital.

What an honor and privilege I felt at the moment that we received this position. All along, I knew that my true passion lies in South Africa, and I knew that this is where I needed to be. Since the program is newly developed, we will have to seek out our own funding in order to pay for our salaries.

So with our grant proposal in our hands, and our hearts in South Africa, we aim to seek out funding for our positions as Child Life Specialists during the next several months. And as I get ready for this new, exciting, selfless journey, I challenge and encourage you to also pursue your dreams. Each and every moment that we are living, there is a change waiting to happen; whether it’s a change in yourself, or your views, the change in the life of a child, or simply change in your perception on things.  Whatever your true passion may be, I hope that you can seek it whole-heartedly, and never once doubt your capabilities on making a difference, because anything truly is possible.


Beating “The Last Measle”

The Red Cross and Red Crescent are symbols recognized worldwide. Its presence—on the sides of medical ambulances, emergency response vehicles, T-shirts of volunteers—immediately instills hope and relief to the millions of people impacted by conflict and disaster. And while the American Red Cross is known for its work in both domestic and international disasters, there is another aspect of our work that is not as well known. But to one billion children in 80 different countries around the world, this work has literally saved their lives.

The Measles Initiative is a partnership—led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and World Health Organization—committed to reducing measles deaths worldwide. And since the partnership in 2001, we’ve been doing just that.

As a result of the Initiative, more than 1 billion children in more than 80 countries have received a measles vaccination. To date, the partnership has invested $670 million in measles control activities, helping to save an estimated 4.3 million lives. We do this through technical and financial support to governments and communities conducting mass vaccination campaigns, improving routine immunization services, and establishing effective disease surveillance. This is critical because as much success as the Measles Initiative has had, if vaccine coverage doesn’t reach 95 percent of a population, the virus doesn’t go away.

One of the strengths of the Red Cross and Red Crescent network is the power of our millions of volunteers around the globe. Because of this strength, the American Red Cross focuses on social mobilization for the Measles Initiative. Volunteers use mass media, rallies, door-to-door visits and educational entertainment to reach families in distant villages and urban settlements who typically do not have access to routine health services. This personal outreach results in parents bringing their children in to be vaccinated, leading to increased participation in mass vaccination campaigns by as much as 10 percent. Greater participation means greater immunization coverage and greater chances of warding off outbreaks.

One day, we hope to eradicate “The Last Measle.”

This post was provided to Red Cross Chat by Guest Blogger Niki Clark

Union County volunteer heads to Red Cross War Memorial Hospital in South Africa

Emily Beauchemin will take this doll with her to Cape Town. The doll is used to help children prepare for their medical procedures, as it can be used to demonstrate a central line, skin grafts, hair loss and other situations the young patients will face.

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.

Emily shows the different ways the doll will help children prepare for their procedures.

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!

Haiti: Two-year update

The American Red Cross has issued a two-year report on recovery efforts in Haiti.

From Red Cross President Gail McGovern:

Thanks to our generous donors, dedicated volunteers and strong partners, the American Red Cross has been shifting our focus from relief to recovery. We’re helping to rebuild what the earthquake destroyed in Haiti and working with local communities to make them safer and healthier. We have built homes, given people opportunities to earn money, provided access to clean water and sanitation systems, supported the delivery of health care, and taught communities how to prevent the spread of diseases and to be better prepared for future disasters.

View the full report