Julie Shih: Nico Toma Hospital Volunteer

Every week at Nico Toma is a different experience. As a group that plans and puts together activities for hospitalized children, one week we would be packing items to sell at their bazaar and another week we would be helping to serve food at their annual Sakura café. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect each week, but that was part of the fun, and the volunteers were always energetic and welcoming. While helping them prepare, we had many opportunities to talk with fellow volunteers. They were naturally curious about the places we came from and we also discussed the differences between American and Japanese culture. I also got the chance to talk to some volunteers about their experiences volunteering with Nico Toma and why they decided to become involved. Many of them had been part of the group for years and years, and from working with them, I could feel a strong sense of solidarity.

I’ve volunteered back in the States before, but never in this kind of setting. It was hard to see the children attached to tubes and machines knowing that there’s nothing we could do regarding their illnesses. I couldn’t help but wonder what a childhood would be like that was spent going in and out of the hospital. However, I’ve realized that children are children wherever you go, energetic and mischievous (one boy snuck back for seconds!), who enjoy playing with other kids and playing games on their DS. Seeing everyone smiling and enjoying the café, I hope that we’ve been able to do what we can to bring some joy into their lives. Overall, volunteering at Nico Toma was an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

2 thoughts on “Julie Shih: Nico Toma Hospital Volunteer

  1. Volunteering at the Nico Toma sounds like a very fun time, if not a bit heartbreaking at times. But it is nice to hear that kids are still kids even when they are in the hospital. Any other fun/interesting stories to share besides the kid sneaking back in line for seconds? 🙂

    • One time we got to do calligraphy with the kids and a child called Yumi came in at the very end. She was really shy since there were so many of us volunteers, but we encouraged her to write simple words. My favorite was the family of ‘dogs’. On different pieces of paper, she wrote two large 「犬」 characters for the parents and then wrote two smaller characters for the children. Then Yumi signed her name on her each. It was adorable! The Nico Toma volunteers loved it as well and I saw the family being proudly displayed on the wall the next time we visited.