By Jennifer Bentzel and Kara Eberle
IMA World Health
hen children arrive at Muhimbili National Hospital, they’re sick and scared. Everything around them seems strange and uncertain. They need to see a friendly face.
Enter Dr. Clown.
Alistidia Albogast’s job is to comfort children being treated for cancer in the only pediatric oncology ward in Tanzania. Her face paint amplifies a warm, genuine smile. Flowers and stenciled animals adorn her white lab coat. Magic appears to spring from her fingers.
“I like to do what I do because I like to see the kids getting happy,” Albogast said.
Some of the children she sees have baseball-size tumors on their faces, caused by Burkitt’s Lymphoma, an aggressive but highly treatable childhood cancer. Others have engorged abdomens. Most don’t understand what’s happening to them or what’s going to happen next.
Before children and their caregivers meet with the doctors, they get a visit from Albogast. She performs tricks for them, plays music and dances with the children who are able. She eases their minds. Her job isn’t always easy because the children she sees are very sick and in pain, but comforting families in their time of need is her passion.
Dr. Clown is one of the ways children and caregivers receive comfort at Muhimbili. IMA World Health, with support from Week of Compassion, have also assisted families by developing books that explain what to expect during their stay.
The books, that were created with the help of Dr. Trish Scanlan and Beatrice Millinga, are given to caregivers when the children are admitted. They detail each step of the process — from diagnosis to recovery. There is also a book for the children using a friendly teddy bear to help them understand what they will go through during treatment. The health care workers also received two training manuals – one for nurses and one for chemotherapy instructions.
Sometimes, Albogast sits down and looks at the books with the families. She eases their minds. After years of doing the same job at other hospitals and children centers throughout Tanzania, Albogast has learned how to relate to families dealing with cancer and gain their trust.
“I treat them like my own babies,” she said.
Founded in 1960, IMA World Health is a global, faith-based nonprofit that works with communities to overcome their public health challenges.