How can you a help a child who is in hospital if you‘re not a doctor? You can try to cheer them up, be their friend and play with them, or maybe teach them something – that’s what Amigos do too. Noémi Szabó’s interview with Sára Forgács-Fábián, who created Amigos.
When Sára was 9 years old, she had to spend almost a year in a hospital. “The only thing I understood at that time was that because of my knee pain I had to go to a hospital, where the doctors told me that they will heal me, and my parents assured me that everything will be okay, but we will be here for a while,” she explained to Endre Kadarkai. Then she recalled that her mother was there with her the whole time, and on weekends both of her parents took turns to be with her. They made sure that she had her daily routine. She woke up, they started to study and later she had to recite what she had learned.
Not everyone is so lucky
At 20, Sára asked first her family and then her friends if they would like to go to the hospital to talk with the children there and help them study – and 10 of her friends said yes –; that’s when Amigos for Children started. That was 5 years ago, and currently there are 170 volunteer students visiting patients in 4 cities.
“Since the formation of the organization, I have changed regarding responsibility and foresight,” Sára says. “What we did in the beginning as a small group of friends out of enthusiasm, we continue doing out of enthusiasm, but our actions have much greater consequences now. As a leader, I think setting an example is one of the most important things and the biggest challenge as well. It would be foolish to say that a leader is perfect. But at the same time, as a leader, to maintain system and order and to expect consistency from others, you have to strive for the same. In an organization working with volunteers, reliability is the main value, so we take great care to maintain it.”
“Yay, the Amigos are finally here!“
Children who already know them greet them with sentences like this. Then they jump out of bed to run to them, not caring about the infusion stand.
“And we are concerned about the stand before we learn that these kids are used to drag their stands with them everywhere they go,” she explains.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic at first of course, sometimes a child who meets them for the first time needs a bit more time to open up. And with teens you need a completely different approach: it’s not the same as sitting down with a 6-year-old to play Uno.
“An Amigo is part adult and part child” Sára answers to the question what the most difficult thing about their job is. “This is why it could be quite hard to maintain the awareness of an adult which is needed when a child tells you their secrets, and not to start to worry or get emotional. After all, you can’t really be an Amigo who cheers children up if you start to cry every time you hear a touching story. At the same time, we must remain completely honest, because children can sense dishonesty.
Maintaining balance is not only important in expressing your emotions, but in setting boundaries as well. A friendship between a teenager and an Amigo can be complicated, because they’re almost the same age. When an Amigo of the opposite sex spends time with a teenager, how long do they stay just an Amigo to them and when will the child start to think that there is more to the relationship? We’ve seen teenage boys who were in love with all 20 Amigo girls whom they met – at least for an hour each,” she says. “Therefore, it’s important that the children meet more than one Amigo, so they connect to more than just one person.”
Sára spoke in several previous interviews about Zolika and the friendship that developed between him and her husband, Ádám. Zolika grew up since their first meeting: The seriously ill 13-14-year-old boy from the hospital is now 18 years old. Zolika and Ádám go to the cinema every year to watch Star Wars, although now that he is an adult there is a possibility that the annual cinema visit will be replaced by going to a pub.
“It’s wonderful to follow this journey from going to Zolika to the hospital to him hosting us with dinner cooked with his mom at home. And to be friends with the parent as well and to be there for them to support when needed. This is a very special feeling.”
“And this is for you.“
When they sit down for crafting with the children, the Amigos find that the little ones very often make drawings and gifts for their parents and siblings; they almost never do anything for themselves. Even the Amigos get gifts from them from time to time.
Sára says a child in the hospital is in a very vulnerable position, everyone wants to help them, so the opportunity for them to finally give something can boost their confidence tremendously.
Becoming a foundation and the 1%
“No, it never occurred to me to stop. Just that I should relax a bit, maybe for a night,” Sára answers to my question.
The organization became 5 years old this year, and for the first 2 years they did not operate as a foundation, only as a group of friends. After becoming a foundation, it took another 2 years of operation to be able to receive the 1% support. This is the first year you can give 1% of your taxes to the Amigos for Children foundation. “There is a fierce competition for the 1%. Some foundations spend 50-100 million forints on marketing, which, if done well, pays off. But we said we don’t want to get into this fight because we don’t see it paying off yet, so we’d rather reach out to acquaintances, Amigos, the parents of Amigos, in short, those who have been following us for a long time.” explains the founder of the organization.
Committed and enthusiastic
“The way all these young volunteers are not only committed to spending their spare time, their daily lives, thoughts and energy to be in a hospital helping kids, which in itself is a huge thing, but also taking part in building and developing this together always amazes me,” she says when I ask her to highlight the most memorable aspect about the Amigos.
The team members have so many ideas and they’re all thinking long term so much, as if the foundation were their own. I wish for them to work with the same enthusiasm and commitment for many, many more years to come!
Source of featured image: amigosagyerekekert.hu
Translation by Ágnes Sturcz