Do you want to volunteer in the UAE ?
‘Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else’
Mark Twain’s famous words hold the most truth when the people concerned are kids stuck in a hospital. The opportunity to offer them an escape and respite from the stark reality of hospitals is what launched ““Wanna Read?””, a volunteer program where people are encouraged to read to young patients, either in the dedicated “Wanna Read?” rooms or at their bedsides.
‘In the hospitals patients can get very bored and they don’t have a lot to occupy their time. Anytime someone knocks on their door it’s a doctor or nurse. When I knock on their door I’m bringing them an escape and an alternative for a few hours two-three times a week,’ says Gabrielle O’Kane, head volunteer at “Wanna Read?”.
“Wanna Read?” is a non-profit organisation established in 2013 by Shaikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan that creates reading rooms for children in hospitals across the UAE; they’ve currently established 15 reading rooms. The idea was inspired from an organised book reading of the Shaikha first children’s book, The Lost Princess in the library at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Gabrielle, 38, is a registered (non-practising) nurse but she has accrued multiple talents as a “Wanna Read?” volunteer since 2015– she is attuned to read the read body language of patients, to read signs of pain and leave them alone or to sense interest and read to them/bring a book to them anyway because sometimes they say no out of shyness. Sometimes she reads out to them and at other times she reads with them, taking turns and engaging them by reading in funny voices and modulating her tone for each character: ‘my dad used to read for me when I was small and he’d use different voices, if you use a monotonous voice they won’t be engaged or responsive.
‘It’s such a simple act to read someone a story or to provide a mobile library service and it costs me nothing to do it. And I’m humbled by how grateful some of the kids and parents are,’ she says.
If you’re eager to donate books only donate new ones and not used ones, Gabrielle pipes in, so hospitals can ensure infection control.
Kylie Brownlee, the manager of communications at “Wanna Read?” outlines how you can sign up to volunteer at “Wanna Read?”: ‘individuals can participate by contacting our office and attending our orientation sessions, which are the first steps.’
Reading to children or carting around a mobile library for them to choose from aren’t the only ways volunteers can participate at “Wanna Read?”.
The organisation hosts events to fundraise and provide a getaway for young patients like an Alice in Wonderland-themed afternoon tea they hosted last year and a second-hand book sale hosted in World Trade Centre earlier this year. ‘We need volunteers to coordinate events and organise sponsored readathons and spellathons at schools, help us with general admin and sort donated books at our office in Abu Dhabi, to help paint and brighten up reading rooms in hospitals,’ says Kylie. Volunteers simply need to be active, friendly, enthusiastic, happy, and most importantly have a love for reading!