But I will bring healing to you And cure you of your wounds —declares Hashem. Though they called you “Outcast, That Tzion whom no one seeks out,” Jeremiah 30:17
For most kids, the natural inclination is to run around and play. But, when a child is saddled with health issues, it sometimes feels like being a normal kid just isn’t possible.
In Israel, hundreds of kids across the country are hospitalized for a variety of issues. Some have sustained a horrible injury or contracted a serious disease. Whatever the reason, all these children know one thing: until they are cured, they are trapped within the confines of the hospital.
Which is why Colel Chabad launched summer camps for hospitalized children. With these camps, Colel Chabad strives to ensure that children receive a respite from their illness and are allowed to just be kids again…at least for a few hours.
“Sick children are also needy. Kids can get stir crazy in hospitals and the hospital staff are not equipped to entertain them; they’re there to heal them,” Rabbi Shmuel Lipsker, a Colel Chabad representative, explained.
Colel Chabad summer camps are in seven hospitals around the world and their 48 volunteers treat some 1,500 children each season.
“We came up with this idea. Until recently, nobody has copied it and we’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Lipsker said.
During the summer, when their healthy peers are out frolicking in the sun, Colel Chabad brings summer camp to them. Let’s also not forget that hospitals can be scary. For kids who don’t know exactly how long they’ll have to be under a doctor’s care, the days can seem interminable with no end in sight.
Colel Chabad works with the hospital staff to provide designated playrooms. There, boys and girls in camp t-shirts and hats sing, play games, and work on arts and crafts projects under the dutiful eye of passionate volunteers.
The playrooms offer a refreshing break from the spartan walls of a hospital. Walking into a playroom, one encounters a burst of color – drawings from children, vibrant posters adorn the walls and stuffed animals and books line the bookshelves.
And thanks to generous donations, Colel Chabad takes care of everything. From markers to colored pencils to puzzles and games, the organization provides a summer camp that is fun and stimulating for all.
And for doctors and nurses, who spend their days surrounded by death and misery, seeing such joy in the eyes of children sparks a sense of optimism and hope throughout the hospital. It also gives the children a sense of structure to their day.
Making children laugh and entertaining them not only occupies them during the day, but scientific studies also prove what many around the world already know: Laughter is the best medicine.
A 2001 University of Oxford study revealed that patients were able to withstand pain 10% more after watching funny videos. Laughing with others releases endorphins in the brain, helping combat stress and anxiety.
“The letters we get from kids are unbelievable,” Lipsker said, proudly.
Additionally, these camps provide relief for overburdened parents who can’t possibly keep their sick child company every day when they may have other children at home or a job.
While Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charity organization, is widely recognized for helping Israel’s needy and impoverished, these hospital summer camps are open to all. After all, being sick is the great equalizer in society and even parents who are affluent can’t afford to bring an entire summer camp to a hospital to entertain their sick child.
“When it comes to sick children, we help everybody. We don’t want any child to feel left out,” Rabbi Lipsker explained.
Without these summer camps, it’s easy to imagine the grim alternative. Listless, suffering children who feel that the world is passing them by while they’re being forgotten. There is no reason a child needs to feel this way.
While the summer camps are a logistical challenge – after all coordinating spaces in busy and overcrowded hospitals and liaising with the dozens of volunteers is not easy. But ultimately, the camps offer something so simple: it allows kids to be kids again.
For more information about Colel Chabad’s Summer of Smiles, click here.
Written in cooperation with Colel Chabad.
To donate to Colel Chabad please click here.