From This Side
Christmas has come to the Paediatric Department
We enter the teachers' room when the animation teams are gathering to bring a little bit of colour to the corridors of the Paediatric Department of the Santa Maria Hospital.
We are there because we want to take part in one of the many playful initiatives organised by the Santa Maria Hospital to entertain hospitalised children. Animation groups are putting on fantasy costumes; teams are playing with puppets and telling fairy tales, others are playing instruments and singing, or performing theatre plays that tell magical stories. Everybody is walking around the corridors of the Paediatric Department to steal shy smiles from kids waiting to get better and to distract tired and worried parents. Behind all this are the Teachers who, together with the teams from each floor of the Paediatric Department, got everything ready to create moments of surprise.
We don't know the story of every kid we meet and, in fact, that is precisely our defence, we don't want to know Leonor’s or Elaine’s or Joaquim's, or Simão's, or Vitória's, clinical case, we only want to give them a hug, or a smile, in exchange for a curious look. Most of these kids have been hospitalised, some longer than others, facing silent and complicated processes. They may have to spend Christmas in the Hospital and they need to believe in fairy tales.
The Harpa Association - Associação Recriar Para Aprender - a pedagogical and sociocultural association recognised by the Ministry of Education, was founded in 1999, by a group of teachers. Composed of 4 women, we meet Elsa, Gisela, Adelina and Mila. A group of puppeteers: "To the Sound of the Harp", which comes to tell a story about the "Girl with the Lantern". The entire scenario is made of natural materials: dolls are made of wool and the forest has real leaves and wood branches. This story's dolls don't have faces so that children can imagine their expression and call them what they want.
The room is getting full and everybody is paying attention to the previously rehearsed and carefully prepared play. Wheelchairs are put away and the youngest ones who have difficulty walking are taken in arms. The Teachers are also there, they have familiar faces, like relatives, taking care of the little ones, giving them the attention their parents sometimes can't give them, with a poorly disguised sadness. In just a few minutes, the little ones are enveloped in the magic of story and forget their scars, the invisible illnesses that hurt them. We are all in a living room that could be our own, there are slippers and robes, and a warmth cherished by everyone. More than the meaning of the tale, it is the touch that impresses us, the care and tenderness of the group "To the Sound of the Harp", touching the faces and fingers of the kids, some of whom are not even old enough to speak, with the puppets.
We come across fantasy characters that we had ridiculously forgotten. Father Christmas is Tiago Couto, Snow White is Madalena Venâncio and Rapunzel is Beatriz Teixeira.. The three of them are part of "Sem Tábuas", a Socio-Cultural and Artistic Association that creates independent cultural productions, and uses art to promote social cohesion, integrating various solidarity initiatives. Empathic and naturally smiling, they rush through the corridors, going up and down the floors, as they fill balloons shaped as flower and swords. They create magic and draw princesses on girls' faces and say the names of all the hospitalised kids, sing to them and charm their mothers, who, for a couple of seconds, go from caregivers to being unprotected.
Corridors and rooms are decorated to the last detail, Christmas is in every corner, nurses and healthcare assistants use Christmassy accessories and some doctors stretch out their arms with joy when they see adults who were once their little patients in the entertainment groups.
After going through every room on each floor, after going through the most delicate wards, I went back to one of the rooms to which silence had already returned and I notice that Constança was still looking at the flower she had been given and smiling alone.
We wish no one had to spend Christmas in the Hospital, but we hope that those who have to are surrounded by multidisciplinary teams as committed as these ones.
To the Teachers, nurses, assistants, doctors, and Associations, and especially to the kids and their families, Merry Christmas!
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Photos: Isabel Varela