Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

Sick children celebrate 'joyous' Eid at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital

The National joined staff and patients at an Eid celebration to remember at London's famous children's hospital

Great Ormond Street Hospital treats children with complex conditions from around the world, including 1,500 patients from the Middle East every year, and it tries to make them feel at home, especially during special times of the year. Courtesy Great Ormond Street Hospital
Great Ormond Street Hospital treats children with complex conditions from around the world, including 1,500 patients from the Middle East every year, and it tries to make them feel at home, especially during special times of the year. Courtesy Great Ormond Street Hospital

Children with painted faces, a magician wowing his audience with card tricks and hands being intricately decorated with henna – you wouldn’t guess all this was taking place in a hospital.

Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, UK, has a dedicated party room and the wards are festooned with colourful bunting and balloons scrawled with the message 'Eid Mubarak'. The aim is to give unwell children and their families a dose of normality during treatment.

The hospital's International Private Patient unit treats children with complex conditions from around the world, including 1,500 patients from the Middle East every year. Making these patients feel comfortable when some will be spending months or even years here is an essential part of the hospital’s ethos, and accommodating religious needs plays an important role.

“We are committed philosophically to meeting the spiritual, cultural and religious needs of our families, staff and patients, as far as we're able to,” said Dorothy Moore Brooks, Deputy Senior Chaplain at GOSH.

“That includes having sacred spaces that are appropriate for families of different traditions, making sure that they are able to have food that's appropriate and that prayer space is allowed for.”

One such space is the brand new Muslim prayer room donated by the Al-Khair foundation – a UK-based NGO – with exquisitely-decorated ablution areas. Other faith spaces available include a chapel built in 1875, a multi-faith space and a shabbat room for Jewish patients, visitors or staff.

During Ramadan, says Romana Kazmi, the hospital’s Muslim chaplain, meeting the psychosocial needs of patients can range from making restaurant recommendations to providing extra staff to watch over children while parents spend time with their siblings or catch up on rest.

“If we had a magic wand, we would just [fix] everything, but whatever little we can do to make that day great for a family, we will try,” she said.

For GOSH’s child patients, however, play is an essential part of most days, and it was given a Ramadan and Eid makeover.

Erin Hanna, one of the international unit’s play specialists, and her team created a number of activities to mark the holy month, making Eid bunting, which now hangs all over the playroom on her ward, and hosting a colouring competition.

Specialists created a number of activities to mark the holy month for patients this year. Courtesy Great Ormond Street Hospital
Specialists created a number of activities to mark the holy month for patients this year. Courtesy Great Ormond Street Hospital

The celebrations were taken up a notch on Tuesday – all 430 in-patient children, regardless of their faith, were treated to a surprise Eid visit from volunteers dressed as film characters, such as Stormtroopers from Star Wars, who delivered presents donated by various charities.

“It's such a joyous day,” said Ms Hanna. “The parents are just so thrilled that we brought this big festival and party to the hospital”.

The next event was a party on Thursday afternoon, featuring music, arts and crafts and the return of the Stormtroopers. Parents animatedly chatted to one another and children excitedly got involved in all the activities.

The mother of 5-year-old patient Maryam said the party was a “great change of scenery – even the baby is enjoying it, no crying!”.

Maryam, who has been at GOSH most of her life, said she enjoyed the face painting and presents the most.

Chaplain Ms Kazmi said that celebrating the festivals of all faiths within the hospital sparks curiosity in the children and their families and fosters a positive atmosphere at what can be an exceptionally difficult time. But senior chaplain Ms Moore Brooks said her team are also aware that families may not be in the mood for fun and games.

“We need to be particularly sensitive because it may be that every Eid, Christmas or Diwali is touched with sadness for them thereafter,” she said.

The UAE and GOSH have a strong bond, which will be cemented by the opening of the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children in the coming months. The centre, the first of its kind, was made possible thanks to a generous £60 million (Dh280m) gift from Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak.

Updated: June 7, 2019 12:31 PM

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