12Jul
2016
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Books are a tonic for sick children

Charity to open more hospital reading rooms so youngsters can spend time with favourite fictional characters at scary time.

ABU DHABI // The Wanna Read? Initiative that has set up seven reading rooms for children in hospitals across the country has funds for six more.

The initiative is a non-profit charitable organisation, and its first reading room was opened at Mafraq Hospital in 2013. The organisation has opened rooms in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and in the paediatric ward at Latifa Hospital in Dubai.

The charity aimed to open six more by the end of this year and, from a recent gala dinner, where Dh400,000 was raised, has the funds to make that possible.

Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the founder of the project, was at a book reading session at the library in the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in the United States, three years ago, when she saw children excited and happy.

She realised that children who were unwell and in hospitals were vulnerable and needed support, sometimes through the eyes of their favourite fictional characters.

“I realised children were very excited to be at the book reading session, even if some of them were not feeling well,” said Sheikha Shamma.

“This experience inspired me to create Wanna Read? and to provide the children of the UAE with an environment conducive to healing through reading.

“I firmly believe in the healing power of books and that one of the most important things you can do for a child is to encourage a lifetime love of reading.

“Hospitalised children are the most vulnerable in our society and there is an understandable fear when a family discovers their child is unwell.

“However good the hospital and however caring its staff, for a child, any time spent as an inpatient can be upsetting. This is where Wanna Read? comes in.”

Sheikha Shamma believed that community service was key to the success of the initiative, so it has a volunteer programme at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“We promote parental engagement by urging parents to read to their children and we hope that people will volunteer to read to children who are in hospital,” Sheikha Shamma said.

The reading rooms have children’s literature in Arabic, English and French. The books are available free to all paediatric patients. There are also book trolleys for young patients who are unable to leave their rooms.

Gabrielle O’Kane, an Australian expatriate in Abu Dhabi, is the head volunteer at the Wanna Read? project. She has lived in the UAE for a year and a half and recently volunteered to develop a structure to the programme.

There are five volunteers at the Wanna Read? room in Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and they try to spend time with patients in the paediatric ward.

“We try to find them authors or books they’re interested in and we take it to them. The children ask us, ‘are you coming in tomorrow?’” Ms O’Kane said.

Being in a hospital can be stressful for parents and children, said Salama Abdulla Al Awadi, deputy chief operating officer, operations administration, at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“Reading is known to reduce stress and have a calming effect,” she said. “Parents and children have enjoyed their experience in the Wanna Read? rooms.

“We have also collaborated with Wanna Read? to extend the initiative from the inpatient set-up to be available also in the outpatient clinics.”

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