Dubliner Ornaith Woodley has found the perfect way to blow off steam after a tough day at the office – by getting down to the serious business of play.
The 24-year-old HR consultant from Glasnevin has spent the past two years cheering up sick children in Temple Street Hospital and says she gets more out of it than they do.
Play volunteer Ornaith is now a team leader with the charity Children in Hospital Ireland and she is urging anyone who has a few hours a week to spare to get involved.
She told Dublin Gazette: “You could be having the worst day in work and then you go in and a child is beaming at you from their hospital bed, whatever they might be going through.
“There is one girl who has been in and out of hospital there for 14 years. It definitely puts life into perspective.
“I didn’t have that much experience with kids, but it’s almost as if these kids are teaching me.”
Of the 270,000 child visits to hospitals in Ireland each year, 75,000 are under four and almost all are admitted through A&E – meaning an unplanned visit for the family.
Play helps to alleviate the trauma of hospitalisation, for both parents and child, providing a sense of normality in an unfamiliar and often overwhelming environment.
Ornaith explained: “I go in every Monday from 6 to 8pm. We go around to the children’s bedsides. We would have games, books, anything to entertain them.
“We have our own trolley stacked with board games. They all love Connect 4; they love headbands as well, and that is great because it’s a group activity which helps them make friends.
“Part of our role is also to give the parents a break. Some may have travelled long distances to get to the hospital.
“If they want to go for a coffee or top up their parking, we can sit with the sick child. But sometimes I find the parents just want to chat.
“Some people ask ‘Is it not really sad’, but I have never come out feeling sad because the kids are so happy. It’s such a nice thing to do.
“You actually feel great after it, and so do they. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Leading children’s charity Children in Hospital Ireland has been providing play and fun for sick children in hospital around the country for almost 50 years.
They are now seeking volunteers for the first phase of the new national children’s hospital, which is due to open at Connolly in Blanchardstown.
To find out more, see their website.