Thanks to you, 16 teens from Kids Cancer Care’s Teen Leadership Program had a life-changing experience in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they experienced childhood cancer from a whole new perspective.
While in Guadalajara, the teens volunteered at a hospital and shelter for children with cancer and a local school. Both the shelter and school are run by a local children’s cancer charity Nariz Roja — Red Nose.
For some teens, visiting the hospital was the most impactful experience of the trip.
“It’s so different from a children’s hospital here in Canada,” says Ryane Nethery, a teen leader on the trip. “There’s no privacy. You can see right into the back where they are mixing the chemo drugs. Once I saw this and heard kids crying, it really hit me.”
Unlike Canadian hospitals, where privacy is absolute and chemotherapies are prepared in a lab offsite, the cancer clinic in Guadalajara was more public and chemotherapies were prepared onsite.
“I just recently went through cancer, so seeing a clinic in the shape of a circle where you’re forced to stare at each other was shocking for me,” says Madeline Pillipow, one of the teens on the service trip. “I couldn’t imagine being in that position.”
The teens were also surprised to see children on active treatment, sitting and playing on the pavement, while awaiting their turn for chemo.
“When I got home I realized how grateful I am for what I have here,” says Madeline.
When the teens first arrived in Guadalajara, Nikki Lamarche of Kids Cancer Care asked them to reflect and share with each other their personal goals for the trip. For individuals who weren’t sure about their goals, the group brainstormed together to help identify potential learning opportunities.
The teen leaders soon discovered that if you’re paying attention, there are no shortage of learning opportunities — be they personal or professional.
“The locals are very relaxed people,” says Madeline. “I’m usually a very uptight person and I took away that I need to be calmer.”
The teen leaders spent each day volunteering, whether it was mopping floors, painting walls, hauling bricks, serving meals or playing with children at the hospital.
The teens cleaned and painted the shelter and hauled hundreds of bricks to a construction site, where Nariz Roja is building a second shelter. This in turn created jobs and temporary housing for local homeless men, who were able to sleep in the gated construction site, while working on the project.
The Nariz Roja shelter “is similar to Ronald McDonald House here, but just way smaller,” explains Ryane.
Despite language barriers, the teens managed to connect with students from a Nariz Roja school. Each group presented on their culture and traditions. While the Calgary teens worked on their Spanish listening skills, the Mexican teens worked on their English.
In the little free time they had, the teens immersed themselves in Mexican culture and toured the city of Guadalajara, visiting a cathedral and learning salsa dancing.
“It was just so eye-opening,” says Madeline. “I’m so happy we got to do it and I would do it again if I could.”
Ryane couldn’t agree more: “I am learning important life lessons. Helping kids with cancer helps me to make sense of my own cancer and it gives me hope for all of us.”
Thank you RBC and other generous donors for believing in our Teen Leadership Program. You are helping teens affected by cancer to build important transferable skills for life such as team building, leadership, communication, time management, budgeting and career planning.