India: Volunteering at Children’s Cancer Hospital

In Chennai, India, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a team of film makers and be on set for a short video they were making for a local non profit organization.

There is something magical about volunteering and truly making a difference in other’s lives. When you volunteer, not only do you help others, but in return you almost always leave the experience feeling a new level of gratitude for what you have and a sense of fulfilment that you don’t typically get from just an ordinary experience.

Volunteering in general is a win-win for everyone!

For this opportunity, I had the chance to work with a children’s cancer hospital in order to help bring awareness Indian kids diagnosed with cancer. In order to do this, I volunteered with a film crew who were working to make a powerful short video, showing countless stories of children who have fought (and are still fighting) the difficult fight of cancer.

On film day we all met together at the studio in a huge room, where I led all the kids in some games and songs for 3 hours while everything was being set up.

Of course, there was an obvious language barrier, but this experience truly showed the power of non verbal communication when communicating with others, because smiling, laughing, hugging and some silly games like Simon Says, Heads up seven up and games in English, where the children repeated words and funny animal sounds after me, was proof that no fluency in the same language was not necessary.

After 3-4 hours playing with the kids, we moved into the studio to start the filming. This was my first time to ever be on set for a short film and it was so much more complicated than I had imagined.

Everything from the sound, lights to positioning had to be absolutely perfect and every time I thought something was great, they would scream CUT, and start again.

Our day started about 8am and during all the morning hours I played and spent time with the kids and their families. However, in the afternoon we moved to the filming room to film. Hours and hours went by, filming the same line over and over again. Every time I thought we were making some progress in the video, I would hear:  “CUT! I WANT A REDO!! ”

After countless hours and redos,  I decided to move out of the way and sit against the wall and just watch. I picked up my cell phone to look at the time, and with a big sigh of dread, I continued waiting…..

In my mind I kept thinking, “Uf, how much longer are we going to be here. I have not eaten and I am ready to do something. Now that I am not actually playing with the children I am getting tired of just sitting here. I am ready to go!”

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With my mind moving to a negative place, I quietly looked out at the kids again, which were getting ready to go for a another retry. The sweet little girl that I had been playing with that morning made direct eye contact with me and with a huge smile going from ear to ear, she looked at me and waved as big as she could with all the excitement in the world.”

I gave her a smile back and just stared at her smiling face.

This moment of eye contact with this little girl is one that I will never forget for the rest of my life, because it was the one moment where I truly took a look at myself and felt embarrassed for the negative thoughts that had been going through my mind.

Before the shoot I was told the stories of the children in which I would be working with. This little girl was in a 3 year battle with stage four Leukemia. She comes severe from poverty and she and her mother have to travel over three hours in the hot, crowded, public buses to the hospital each week for chemotherapy, and they barely have enough money to cover that cost.

Despite the outside forces, she has always kept a positive mindset and decided that she wanted to live and no matter how bad she feels, she keeps pushing ahead.

This was the case for most of these children. Most have been fighting cancer, with intense chemotherapy for at least three years. Most come from poverty, single parents and situations that I can’t even begin to imagine.

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As I was sitting there in the floor, complaining in my head about how long they were taking, that smiling little face from that girl would not leave my head. Not only that, but this little (as well as six others from the film shoot) received heavy doses of chemotherapy the day before, but yet stood so tall and proud.

Besides one very weak girl on out of the group fainting from hours of being on her feet, there was not one that complained about standing during long hours and the countless re-dos. They did exactly as they were told with a smile. They did not have Iphones to entertain them and they didn’t complain like most children about being tired, hungry or bored. Sadly, it was only me in my own mind.

I left this day reflecting on all that had happened and feeling a new sense of gratitude. Not just gratitude for my health, although I give thanks for that now each and every day, but for the life that I grew up with, for a loving family, clean water, enough food to eat, shelter, and for the opportunities that I have had throughout my life.

Volunteering truly does help you to get a new perspective and helps you to realize how much you really do have to be thankful for. Even if youe situation seems bad, there is always someone that has a worse one.

This powerful experience has helped me to realize that I need to start seeing more of my blessings and focus my life around that, because everything starts with gratitude.


Check out the final video from the video shoot:


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  • Have you ever had an experience that truly changed your life and your perspective on life? 

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