There is an oasis where laughter and prayer replace the sound of monitor beeps. It’s a place to escape from blood work and cerebrospinal taps; a place for kids to play, parents to be encouraged, and the worries that accompany sickness to disappear. This beautiful oasis is the CURE Uganda playroom.
In this brightly painted room, animal stickers decorate the wall, bright balls hang from the ceiling, rows of baby rockers and mobiles line the floor, and a closet is stuffed full of toys and games. The space was designed to give families a respite from typical hospital atmosphere. It’s a safe place for families to play and be encouraged.
“After serving at CURE Uganda for a while, I started praying about this playroom project. I really had it on my heart to create a space to fit the unique needs of our patients, who are most often small babies. I started discussing with staff at the hospital how we might create this room. I was hoping to turn it into an encouraging playroom for infants,” says Kiera Erickson, a volunteer at CURE Uganda and wife to Executive Director, Tim Erickson.
When transforming the room, Kiera struggled to find baby equipment and toys within Uganda. However, during her second year as a volunteer at the hospital, people at her home church, Heritage Bible Chapel in Massachusetts, informed her that they were interested in visiting the hospital to help with projects and minister to the staff and patients. Kiera asked them if they would be willing to help set up the playroom and provide the needed items. They enthusiastically agreed and purchased toys and equipment to send over with the team.
Renovations soon started on the new playroom. The former room proved inadequate with only a few old toys and no accommodations for babies. The room also served as overflow office space. The space was drab and not very functional, but new tiling for the floor, fresh paint, stickers and decorations, and the gifted baby equipment and toys gave it new life.
“It was so amazing when the playroom opened, and the children and the babies were here for the first time … it was like seeing the dream become a reality. The babies were looking around at the brightly colored toys and were so engaged by their new surroundings. Their moms were really enthused as well,” said Kiera.
The playroom is the main place inside the hospital for children of all ages to play and find others to play with, it is an oasis for the children, like Michele (picture above on the left). We’ve packed the room with toys for children of all ages, including rattles, cars, building blocks, musical toys, dolls, and stuffed animals. When older kids come to the room, they have an abundance of things to play with, and their joy usually lights up the room.
Annet, a member of the Spiritual department staff and playroom coordinator, reflects:
“The playroom is valuable especially because of the need we saw when it comes to those children being taken to the theatre. Before they are taken to theatre, of course, the children are not allowed to eat (due to the need to fast before surgery). Of course, the children cry. There is a lot of crying. So we tend to bring them to the playroom and try to distract their attention from the hunger and put their focus on stimulating stuff or toys. Somehow they draw their attention, and the child will not so much focus on the hunger, and they try to push on for some time. At least it is something that helps them and helps the parent,” said Annet.
During the 10 o’clock hour, a member of the spiritual team will walk through the ward and ICU to tell the mothers that the playroom is open, and soon a pile of shoes will be stacked in front of the playroom door. The families fill the room! There are babies in rockers and under mobiles. Mothers sit on the mat in the center of the room as they play with their child, while older children build with blocks or push cars around.
“The first 30 minutes is dedicated to family time with the caregivers playing with their children,” said Annet.
“We also want it to be a place to teach the moms to play and engage with the kids. By God’s grace, that is what has happened. It has been such a joy to watch how well it has gone. It is a place I think they look forward to coming each day,” says Kiera.
After family time, a variety of activities are offered, including puzzles, coloring, nail painting, knitting, and painting.
The playroom is also a place that provides encouragement and builds community.
“The mission of the playroom is to help the families in the hospital to change their mindset from worry and stress to hope, and to encourage them,” says Annet. “Of course, you find the mothers are traumatized when the children are being taken to theatre, so we bring them here and change the environment to provide support and encouragement.”
During the activity of the day, mothers tend to relax and talk freely about what they are feeling, giving the spiritual staff the opportunity to encourage, comfort, and pray for them. This time of sharing helps friendships form as people from all different tribes and walks of life come together. Each spiritual staff member tries to make the playroom as inviting and comfortable as they can, and use their time in the playroom to bond with the mothers and share the gospel.
“Even in the playroom people have come to Christ. We lead them in a confession prayer,” says Annet.
Along with the spiritual team, Kiera comes to the playroom to spend time with the mothers and babies. She brings along her foster son, Timothy, who was treated at CURE Uganda for hydrocephalus a little more than a year ago. She tells his story, sharing how when he came to CURE, he didn’t have control of his neck, but now he is playing, crawling, and learning to walk.
Most of all, the playroom is a safe place where families can feel and know God’s love.
Kiera tells the caretakers: “I want you to be encouraged today and know that God has a plan for your baby. Your baby is not a mistake, and God knows the problem your child has, and He sees it, and He cares for you. So please be encouraged. God knows your situation.”
Whether the playroom is buzzing with the sounds of play or quiet with the sounds of prayer, it is indeed an oasis, a place where God says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)