AVOI : Children’s Oncology Volunteers Association
WHAT DO WE DO?
Our aim at AVOI is that no child is left without playing and smiling.
Since 1993, AVOI (Asociación de Voluntarios de Oncología Infantil) has been dedicated to helping children in the Hospital Materno-Infantil to make their stay as pleasant as possible.
To do this, we carry out a series of daily activities inside the hospital and sporadically outside it, and we have the collaboration of some 170 volunteers who, 365 days a year, morning and afternoon, play and entertain children hospitalised on various floors of the Hospital.
Our story began in March 1993 when a doctor from the Oncology Ward saw the need for volunteers to come and play with the children admitted to the hospital. This doctor went to the Faculty of Medicine where a few of us students met with him and he proposed that we form groups of volunteers and go to the hospital to play with the children, an idea that we thought was magnificent. Soon a few of us friends began to visit the children. We didn’t have any play equipment, but we were very eager to start the project and we invented whatever we needed to help these children.
It was very hard at first, as we did not know the terrain and did not know how we would respond and whether we would be accepted or not by the children. But what always happens and continues to happen over the years is that children give you everything, no matter how much or how little you do for them, they always give you more and you go home with the awareness of a job well done. We didn’t have any toys and we started collecting them, which was a big boost. Each one of us was responsible for one day a week and we formed groups of volunteers who came in the afternoons with a lot of initiative and a desire to play and do whatever it took to make people smile.
Over time we gained experience, every year many volunteers came to the hospital in rotating groups to make the children on the ward happy. But we lacked funds, so our projects remained just that, projects. So we decided to take a step forward and set ourselves up as an association, and in 1998 AVOI was born:
ASOCIACIÓN DE VOLUNTARIOS DE ONCOLOGÍA INFANTIL (ASSOCIATION OF CHILDREN’S ONCOLOGY VOLUNTEERS) WAS BORN IN 1998.
We started to be taken a bit more seriously, we applied for grants but they didn’t come, but with the help of a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ibars, we were able to go ahead, as they subsidised us for materials and toys and took the children to summer camp.
In 1999 we decided that we could do something more, we were concerned about the school support for these children, as they were hospitalised for long periods of time and could not go to school. In the whole hospital there was only one teacher. We signed an agreement with the University of Malaga and teachers started to come as trainees. It was a great support but we only had them for three months of the year. We started to come not only in the afternoons but also in the mornings in order to prepare the teachers and help the children as much as we could.
In the year 2000, the Junta de Andalucía – Delegación de Sanidad awarded us a distinction for our work on the Day of Andalucía. Also, and something crucial for us, was the initiative of some parents who called a meeting where other parents and ourselves came together and presented us with the idea of helping us, of becoming members of AVOI, with the idea of providing support, as well as economic, unconditional help so that we could help other future children just as we did with their sons and daughters. Little by little, they became members and today we have around 150 members, as well as many others who give us their unconditional support.
In 2001, on 13th December, the Telefónica Foundation, Antena 3 TV and the Ministry of Social Affairs awarded us the First Prize for Volunteering in the category of Illnesses and Disabilities from the hand of H.R.H. Felipe Príncipe de Asturias. As well as being very emotional, it was the biggest boost we have had to move forward, as it was a public recognition of our dedication, of which we feel tremendously proud, and all the more so as it was Our Prince who presented it to us. This award was our first step towards consolidation: our volunteer work was perfectly defined, trained and organised both in the mornings and afternoons, our handicraft workshops for children, mothers and fathers were becoming more and more popular, new technologies (computers) also flourished, we were going on more and more excursions, etc. All with one aim in mind: to make the children in oncology happy.
In May 2003, a number of fathers, mothers, boys and girls affected in the name of all of us made a public recognition in a programme of Canal Sur: “Senderos de Gloria”, which was also a very nice initiative where they showed us all their affection, something that we will never forget.
Although at the beginning we were completely dedicated to the Oncology Ward, in the last few years and in collaboration with the hospital management, we have been carrying out our most important project of which we are very proud, and which we call “No child without playing”.
It is about taking all the assistance to the entire paediatric hospital, allowing all the children in the hospital to have their recreational-recreational and educational activities with an organised volunteer team to carry them out, and thus improve their hospital stay.
In December 2005, on the occasion of the International Volunteer Day, the Malaga City Council awarded us the First Prize of Malaga Volunteering, Social Action Category. In May 2007 we achieved a historic milestone for us, taking 38 children with cancer to Disneyland Paris. It was spectacular to see them there, we will never forget their faces when they saw their favourite characters.
In December 2007, in Isla Cristina, Huelva, AVOI was awarded the First Andalusian Volunteering Award, which was not only emotional but also a great consolidation of our work.
In November 2008, the Andalusian Youth Institute awarded us the First Prize in the Associations Category for our voluntary work.
In June 2010, the Carlos Haya Hospital Complex awarded us the Maltese Cross, a distinction in health, for our work throughout all these years.
We have received other awards in different towns in Malaga such as in Algarrobo (2012), Mijas (2013), and the last one in May 2014 in Sayalonga.
However, our most important award or distinction is the one we receive day after day, when we see the children smile, there is nothing comparable to that feeling.
We are still at the bottom of the barrel, and although the road has not been and is not being easy, we have the most important thing, which is the sincere smile of the children and their families. Our feeling when we are in the hospital is indescribable, I don’t think there is a greater reward in the world than the one we have day by day, that look of gratitude and friendship cannot be compared to anything. That is why we will do our utmost to make these little ones and their families as comfortable as possible in the hospital. Their joy is our strength.