The old man on the other end of the phone line sounded disappointed. Or so it seemed to Iglesia CERO member Abi Contero.
“My granddaughter attends the activities your team organizes regularly,” the old man said. “And she is the one who won’t be able to attend the one-week camp you are advertising,” he added.
Contero remembered the girl’s case immediately. She was not an ordinary girl. At camp, an unusual health condition would require a specialized cook to care for her needs. It was a cook that the team just didn’t have. On those grounds, the girl’s family’s request for her to attend camp had been rejected.
A little embarrassed, Contero began to apologize profusely.
“It’s OK,” the man said. “I am just calling because I want you to assure me that next year, you will try putting a camp together again. What do you need for that to happen?”
And thus, one of the most moving stories of partnership and collaboration between a team of Adventist volunteers and a group of non-members was born.
Caring for the Least of These
When Iglesia CERO, a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Madrid, Spain, was considering what outreach and community projects to adopt, the members became aware of a group of underserved people: kids who suffer rare, chronic, or degenerative diseases.
Many of these children and teenagers have been affected by an incapacitating condition. These include severe cases of epilepsy, terminal cancer or cancer treatments that have left patients with permanent damage, and rare degenerative diseases.
Often, health care providers tell their parents there is not much that can be done and simply provide an estimate of how many more years their patients might have left.
Programs for these young patients are rare or non-existent, and parents are left with the onerous task of fending for themselves as they juggle between life, work, and care providers.
Doing Something About It
People outside the young patients’ circle of influence often do not realize how hard life can be for them and their caregivers.
“Most people agree that, with the exception of parents and close relatives, these young patients are mostly invisible to society,” a volunteer explains. “Some of these patients have gone through multiple surgeries and interventions; others must check in at a local hospital several times a week. It’s a hard life, and in most cases, there is no hope for a cure down the road.”
Volunteers at Iglesia CERO decided to do something about it. Using Timon School, an Adventist educational institution, as their venue, volunteers began to create activities intended to entertain and inspire young participants. These activities also provide parents and other caregivers an occasional much-needed free day to take a break, go out, or rest. Regular activities also include a one-week summer camp where participants can play, learn skills, and sing.
“It’s not easy and requires a lot of time and effort,” Contero says. “Also, it’s hard because, since we began, we have already lost two of them,” she adds with a sigh. “But parents deeply appreciate what we do. And they are really committed to our initiative.”
A Whole Town Mobilizes
The granddaughter of the old man who called Contero over the phone was not able to attend the summer camp that year. Nevertheless, the girl’s grandfather made sure that Iglesia CERO volunteers didn’t lack funds to put the camp and other activities together the following seasons.
“That grandpa, who is not a Seventh-day Adventist church member and lives in a 2,000-resident satellite town outside Madrid, mobilized his entire community to fundraise for the Iglesia CERO initiative,” Contero says. “People would organize bake sales and other initiatives to benefit these kids often left behind.”
Contero shares that when the volunteer team visited the old man’s town, they were surprised to see flyers posted everywhere, advertising fundraising initiatives on behalf of Iglesia CERO.
“They had done all the advertising for us. It was really moving,” Contero says. “They did all the work, and then came and told us, ‘Here’s all the money we raised. Take it, please. And do not hesitate to contact us if you need more.’”
A Bunch of Superheroes
Back at Timon School, on May 21, children and teens enjoyed seven hours of activities, games, songs, good food, and entertainment. By now they are acquainted with the team volunteers very well, and they are not shy to show their appreciation and affection for the loving care they receive.
By mid afternoon, after participants have listened to stories, enjoyed pizza and cake, and played various ball games, they are told they should expect a surprise. A few minutes later, after a theatrical fog machine display, a door opens, and two guest volunteers dressed as superheroes make their grand entrance. The group of children and teens are ecstatic. With big smiles on their faces, they run to hug their movie heroes, asking them countless questions in no particular order. The superheroes patiently answer the participants’ enquiries and hug them back.
“How do you like your surprise?” Contero asks them, almost rhetorically. “Do not forget, please, that you are also heroes. In fact, here, you are real superheroes.”