A candid account on volunteering

Categories: Opinion.

This World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, the importance of appreciating palliative care volunteers was highlighted as a core value for every person to have access to palliative care services under Universal Health Coverage. Here, Huyaam Samuels, 21 years old, shares her experience as a pediatric palliative care volunteer after she herself has benefitted from the volunteer service of others to manage chronic pain. 

Volunteering within the palliative care field at a paediatric organisation, namely Paedspal, has been a joy and something very dear to me. Before my health started going in the opposite direction, I strongly wanted to pursue becoming a paediatrician. However, life and medical circumstances got in the way and I pursued something else, that suited me and my health.

My paediatric pain specialist at the time, Dr Michelle Meiring – was a fantastic mentor to learn from. She sort-of roped me in here and there, and slowly but surely – I started feeling more passionate about serving children and thought: ‘this is something I could do’.

Volunteering at the Paediatric Palliative Care Clinic in Cape Town, South Africa (Paedspal).
Photo published with parental permission.

Volunteering, I have seen a lot of things that I never knew existed or even thought was possible. It is a really self-satisfying and self-rewarding passion. It is in those few moments of having the child give a tiny smile, a laugh or make you some play dough food.

There has been so much I have learned from the parents, their siblings or even carers whilst having conversations with them here and there. You learn that there is so much people are going through and so many difficulties, and here I am complaining over a headache?

It is support or kind words from a random stranger that might keep them or even yourself, going for a while. All of these factors kept me motivated, aside from knowing personally how detrimental struggling with health issues can be.

As a patient, you want to come to see your palliative care team members but also not deal with them in some ways. Instead, as a patient I recall looking forward to meeting the random new volunteer.

Volunteers play an important role in palliative care organisations. It is that moment of meeting a new parent or child, speaking to them and learning their life story, in which one realises – wait, the doctor won’t have time to make them feel at home because they have to prepare to speak to the family and the patient and who knows what news awaits them?

Team members also often don’t have time to play with these children before they see a specialist as they too have to prepare to do a counseling session, aromatherapy session or even an art session.

Volunteering in palliative care, is more than having free time to offer – it’s about humility, humanity and spirituality – all the factors which connect us as human beings, factors which we can relate to regardless of religion, race or what one’s health issue is.

Volunteering is also a good way of spreading awareness of the cause and organisation. This has caused me to strongly advocate for palliative care in whatever way possible locally, and globally.