There is a tradition in Satima. It has been with us for a while and there are is no sign of it phasing out. Every end of semester when the campo guys have cleared their exams we have a barbecue on the following Saturday and an excursion the next day to some bundus or some other god-forsaken place to stretch our muscles, burn the fat in our bodies as well as forget the sorrows occasioned by the exam period. But this time, it was a little different. Instead of going for an excursion, we visited the children’s cancer ward at Kenyatta National Hospital.
Coincidentally, on the day we went for the visit, there was a feature about the cancer ward on NTV. But that is not the reason for this article. This article is about the heroic stories of the children in the ward. A story of pain and resilience, of suffering bravely and cheerfully borne. It all shows on their faces. Sometimes you forget what these children are suffering from because their faces are drowned with expressions of joy and cheerfulness. They like to have fun, play soccer and their absolute favorite is horse-riding, with them being the riders and us the horses. Even after your shoulders have become sore and you cannot carry them any longer, they keep on begging for more, “Aiiii, nibebe tena.” Then they give you that look which would melt even the coldest of hearts.
These children have amazing stories about their battles with cancer. Take Patience, for
instance. She’s 11 years of age and one of her legs was amputated to prevent a cancer from spreading to the other parts of her body. She walks with the help of crutches yet her cheerful smile is quite infectious. When she smiles, all her teeth are visible. She has a tight buddy named Elsie on whom the effects of the cancer are clearly visible. The two are inseparable. They are like they’re twins.
There are many other classic examples of friendships blooming like flowers among the kids in the ward. Friendships united by their common battle against cancer.
On occasions there are people of goodwill who come to the ward to help to make it a livelier home for the children. I lift my hat off for one such person. Her name is Mama Wahu. She volunteers, on Sundays, to prepare the kids for Holy Mass by cleaning and dressing them. She leads them all to the K.N.H. Catholic chapel and ensures that they don’t misbehave by pointless chit-chat and throwing projectiles at each other, as is wont to happen with children of their age. After Mass, she leads them to the playing field where they engage in fun activities like playing soccer and enjoying the therapeutic massage of the mid-day sun.
At lunch time, she spoon feeds the children who are too weak to feed themselves. To some, Mama Wahu, is the only mother they know. I say this because some of them have been abandoned by their parents in the wards while others rarely get visits from their folks. When strangers visit, the kids interact with them with no qualms. I guess that a little affection goes a long way.
Cancer treatment costs an arm and a leg and most of their parents can barely afford the treatment. Any form of assistance is welcome either in form of TLC, that extra financial help, or better still that occasional smile flashed at the right time. Adults usually succumb to this illness and to think of children who have to endure the same pain and agony is something hard to wrap the brain around. Doctors have given some of these children just a few months to live but their lives are devoid of worry. When I watch them, I point an accusing finger at myself for the numerous times I have become saddened because an exam had hammered me (no mentioning subjects here). Lest we forget, no matter what kind of mess we find ourselves in, there is somebody else with deeper problems. When we remember that, we will rejoice if some setback hits us because, heaven knows, it could have been worse.
A visit to the children’s cancer ward at KNH is an occasion that can change a heart made of stone into jelly. To people who are not comrades in the school of suffering, this visit could be life-changing. It is difficult to remain indifferent. The ward has been refurbished by the Israeli Embassy and looks quite gisty. It stands out from the rest of the hospital. Scores of other people have also raised funds to cover the cost of treatment for some of the children while others, like Mama Wahu, volunteer to take care of them and offer them that much needed TLC. For those who wonder what to do on those hot Sunday afternoons after taking that refreshing siesta, a visit to the KNH children’s cancer ward would be an ideal plot. With a permit from the hospital chaplain, you’re good to go.