For the second year in a row, I’m aiming to run 1,000 km and pledge $1 per km towards charity. In addition, to enhance my 2018 Running Well challenge, I’ve set a total fundraising goal of $10,000. When selecting a charity beneficiary, it was important to me to find one based in Israel, where I live, such that I would be able to pay an in-person visit to the charity’s headquarters. After reading their Mission Statement and watching a few videos about them, I settled on Save a Child’s Heart (SACH).
At the start of the year, as I began the first steps towards my 1,000 km goal, I reached out to SACH to let them know about my planned year-long fundraiser. Their response couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. Beyond just expressing their thanks and support for my run, they even sent me a small gift.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) March 22, 2018
A Firsthand Look
A few weeks back, I decided it was time to pay a visit to SACH’s headquarters, located just under an hour’s drive from where I reside. I brought my 10-year-old daughter, Abby, along with me as I felt there would be a lot she could gain from the experience as well.
We were greeted by Brianna, who proceeded to sit with us for the better part of an hour and tell us about the special work SACH engages in. Working in SACH’s marketing department along with Dana, with whom I had been corresponding via email and over the phone prior to my visit, Brianna explained that they’re both on-site every day giving tours, talks, and taking part in Q&A sessions with Israeli and international visitors and donors. And, of course, they’re always playing with the kids.
It’s one thing to read words about a charitable organization on a website and follow their social media posts. It’s quite another to see the charity’s beneficiaries in person. Dozens of children, both pre- and post-operation, not looking sickly in hospital beds, but rather bubbly and cheery, with toys, games, and a schedule full of activities to keep them busy.
The children are flown from all corners of the globe to Israel, where they undergo surgery and receive treatment not available in their homelands. Typically, a child spends 2-3 months in Israel; a short while prior to the heart operation, a little time in the hospital, and then a few weeks recuperating at SACH headquarters, with occasional follow-up visits to the hospital for check-ups. Flights, surgery, medical care, room and board, and all other expenses are fully covered by donations.
In addition, funds are also appropriated to bring in doctors from less developed countries. These doctors reside in Israel -in the SACH compound – for five years, during which time they’re being given highly specialized training at Israeli hospitals. Eventually they return to their home countries and provide care locally, thus obviating the need to have as many children travel overseas for procedures and treatment.
A Mini Bubble in an Alien World
A couple dozen mothers were also milling about on the premises, some talking to one another, while others were sitting and playing with their children. Brianna then told us something pretty astonishing, namely that while children under six come with their mothers, those aged six and up arrive alone!
My jaw dropped as I tried to comprehend what that situation must feel like to a young child anywhere from 6-12 years old, already in need of life-saving surgery. To be alone, unable to speak the local language in a foreign country, without their parents. My daughter was stunned into complete silence. Due to space and cost considerations, the “ideal” of bringing all parents along with their children is unfortunately simply not possible.
To help compensate, SACH makes every effort to provide open lines of communication between children and their families, via the coordination of scheduled Skype calls, while they’re apart. In addition, children are always brought in groups from the same country, so at least they have each other as company and playmates while at SACH. Moreover, the mothers who do come in with the younger children de facto form a mini community, caring as a group for all the kids, including taking shifts cooking foods as similar as possible to what they’re used to in their native lands. Even with all these tastes of home, however, it’s of course still not the same as having one’s parents at arm’s distance.
Helping to bridge the communications gap some, we noticed during our visit that the children and mothers were able to understand and sometimes even speak some basic words and phrases in both English and Hebrew, while SACH staffers and volunteers concomitantly try to learn some Swahili and other languages common to the kids flown in for treatment.
After Brianna finished answering all our questions, she invited us to play with the children. Through hand gestures and the universal language of playing games, my daughter and I were ever so briefly able to share some special time with Muqadam from Tanzania, as well as Ussi, Yassir, and Mujammad from Zanzibar. Young boys and girls from Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Romania, as well as Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, populated the scene as well. SACH headquarters knows no borders, and there is no room for politics, conflict, or discord of any type; only help, healing, and harmony. Humanity was on display at its finest.
It’s not just kids who enjoy games, either. I offered a deck of cards to one of the mothers and her face lit up instantly. She called over one of the children as well as another mother and the trio immediately began playing a game. Admittedly, I couldn’t recognize which game it was – it certainly wasn’t any form of poker – but it appeared to bear similarities to War and Go Fish. What was undeniable, however, was that they all were having a grand time playing cards.
The day after our visit, I got an email from Brianna letting me know that the cards were a hit among the mothers, and that they were continuing to enjoy sitting outside and playing card games together. Hearing that made me glad I had left a dozen decks at SACH for future groups to enjoy as well.
Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
Every couple of months, SACH experiences a “turnover” of sorts, as children are flown back to their homes only to be replaced by a new group of sick children in need of immediate life-saving surgeries. Brianna confided in me that that is actually one of the most difficult parts of her job; saying goodbye. Spending hours upon hours, day in and day out with some very special kids, helping them heal not just physically but also emotionally, only to have to bid them farewell so soon thereafter, with full knowledge that they’ll likely never meet again. Bittersweet, indeed.
Leaving the compound, a chorus of children waving and wishing us goodbye, I could tell that my daughter, Abby, was visibly moved; I was, too. We got back into our car and just sat and talked about the experience for a while before heading home. We talked about how lucky we were to not be thousands of miles apart from one another. We talked about how lucky we were to be healthy. We talked about the importance of traveling beyond our own little bubble to meet, interact with, and try to bring some joy into the lives of the sick and those less fortunate.
Running My Heart Out
I had approached my visit to SACH headquarters happy that I would get to know and internalize precisely who I’m running for. I had been looking forward to better understanding the importance of the cause and knowing how much of a difference that knowledge would make each and every time I step on the treadmill to do my running.
I left SACH headquarters with far more than that. I’ve promised myself that I would return once again later on this year with my wife and other two children. I want them to see with their own eyes what their husband and father is running for.
Exercise can be great for the heart in more ways than one.
Support SACH via My Running Well Challenge
I mentioned at the outset of this piece that I had set a goal of fundraising a total of $10,000 in pledges towards SACH in 2018. Thanks to the generous support of individual and corporate sponsors from the poker community, we’re over 60% of the way there as of this publication.
If you’d like to pledge your support, please get in touch with me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to add your name to the list. Monies are to be donated to Save A Child’s Heart at the end of this year directly by those who’ve made pledges.
Thank you so much @ory316 for your encouragement and for supporting the efforts of a wonderful organization!
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) April 9, 2018