I started this project approximately five years ago when I discovered that there were no programs here to provide hats or outside moral support and encouragement for the children and their mothers.
It all began when Dr. Pablo Rodriguez requested English speaking women to spend some time with patients and their families from Belize. These families could not speak Spanish and felt isolated here. So I went with Ingrid Rubio (a founding IWC member) to talk with a family.
The first patient was 11 years old Geoffrey. He was receiving treatment for leukemia. His younger brother Jon had been at the hospital every day, all day and into the night with their mother for over a week. I started visiting them regularly and took Jon and his mother out to break the monotonous routine. We went to the zoo and Parque Las Americas so Jon could run and play. We had ice creams or a cold drink. I took them all to the bus station when they would temporarily return to Belize.
This relationship lasted for well over a year and it broke my heart when Geoffrey’s mother sent me a text saying that he was gone.
During my initial visits to the children’s oncology ward, I notice that most of the children were sadly just lying in their beds with nothing to occupy their minds and none of them had a comfy hat. So I talked to the doctor and the psychologist about bringing hats and some coloring books with crayons.
After receiving permission, I started crocheting hats like crazy but, of course, I could not make enough hats to visit every week with 15 to 25 children there each time. It would not have been right to leave some of the children without.
After about a year, Marianne Kehoe, Beth Knepp, and Theresa Grey started making hats for the children. I continued to buy the coloring books, crayons, and some toys. I was fortunate to have a friend who chipped in when he was here in town, as well. This all made it possible for me to start visiting the children on a more regular basis.
Then one day, Dr. Rodriguez suggested that I start bringing age-based activity books so that the children would use their minds and, for a time, stop thinking about their illnesses. At this point I knew that I could no longer financially continue the project on my own. Hats were frantically getting done and jumbo color-books were being delivered to the younger children, but activity books and supplies for all ages (1 to 17 years) would be more than I could do on my own.
I found Tony’s paper supply store. There I was able to get a good discount on young children’s story books, crayons, and colored pencil packs but age-based activity books were very expensive and needed to be purchased in a book store.
At this point I requested some financial assistance from the IWC and Marianne Kehoe graciously agreed to become a weekly volunteer. Marianne’s great ideas, to print our own age-based activity books and to form the Gorro Girls, literally saved the project.
We started printing activity books for under 10 pesos per booklet. Marianne found used Spanish activity books in the States and Rogers Hall donated about 30 different out-of-date text/workbooks in Spanish and a dozen in English to make the booklet copies. Now we have activity books for 6 levels.
Marianne also scoured the U.S. dollar bins and brought back dozens of Hot-Wheels, little mushy light-up creatures, and magic wands to give each child something special.
Now, thanks to the generosity at IWC events, individual donation support, The Gorro Girls, and the hard work of so many wonderful women to bring it all together, the Cancer Children’s Project will continue weekly to bring as needed liquid medications to infants, activity books, crayons, colored pencil packs, hats, and small toys to the children who need a reason to smile.
This project means so much to the children and their families. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. – Marie Barchus