We at the Little Fighters Cancer Trust are all well aware what Children with Cancer and their Families have to go through on a daily basis; the constant pain, the stress, the illness, the devastation of little bodies, the treatments, the nausea, the suffering and the heartache of parents who felt helpless in the face of that monster, Cancer.
In 2014, Fatimatul Botul was talking to a friend who works at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU). The doctor was sharing his experience of treating cancer afflicted children; describing how much pain they go through every day. This prompted Fatima to visit BSMMU one day to see for herself if she could do something about it. What she saw tore her heart apart.
“I was heartbroken by the silent faces of parents and the cries of their ailing children,” Fatima says.
Aged between 1 and 11, most cancer patients in the paediatrics haematology and oncology ward of the hospital come from poor families who are unaware of the fact that cancer in children is often curable if they are given proper treatment and hope.
Fatima and four of her friends, Sumaiya Ali, Kaniz Nusaiba, Khadiza Rahman Liza and Nipu founded an organisation named “For a Bit of Smile” that year, with the intention of helping alleviate the sufferings of such children by providing financial support and humanitarian assistance.
“We felt those children needed love and affection, alongside treatment,” Nusaiba said, so the team of five started visiting the hospital on weekly basis to spend time with children suffering from cancer.
“We bring along toys and play with the innocent patients. We also tell the parents to hold on to hopes.”
Sumaiya Ali, another volunteer of this group, explains why she has extended her support to such children. “It is not easy to look at a child who has just gone through chemotherapy or a spinal injection. It is heart wrenching. Their pain became our strength.”
From their firsthand experience they have learned that not all families need financial support, but each one of them does need emotional support. They need people to share their pain, sit beside their sick children and hold them with love and warmth so that they get encouragement and strength to carry on fighting.
The young women, who share similar empathy for these children and their parents, met at the Active Citizens Programme of British Council.
“We knew that we wanted to do something for the welfare of children. It took us months to prepare the whole plan. We are still learning every day,” Sumaiya says.
The unusual effort of this group did not go unnoticed by Prof Md Afiqul Islam, former chairman of the paediatrics haemotology and oncology department of BSMMU. He came forward with his generous support. He trained the young team to communicate and interact with the children and to embrace the pain of their parents.
While specialised doctors are providing medical care, this team plays an important role by helping parents cope with the stress of care-giving while motivating the children to not give up.
“This emotional support is as important as medical treatment. Besides, cancer affected children can be cured. You will find families who don’t know how to handle this scary disease; they don’t know how to comfort their sick children. On the other hand, these kids need someone to sit beside them, to chat with them, to engage them in games and conversation. I think this young group is doing a great job,” says Prof Islam.
In the last two years, For a Bit of Smile has provided counseling, emotional assistance and financial aid for medicines to 300 children suffering from cancer. Besides, they have raised Tk 1.5 lakh for the treatment of two children. The number of volunteers has increased from 5 to 40 who joined the journey to help cancer afflicted children in BSMMU.
Dilip Das, father of four-year-old Diponto, says his daughter could survive mainly because of the financial support from the organisation. “I am a wage earner. It is difficult for me to run my family with the meager amount I earn. It wouldn’t be possible for me to pay for such expensive treatment.”
For a Bit of Smile is helping him through counseling him and giving financial support, Dilip said, adding that, “I am eternally grateful to them.”
The team has also built a small play area in the corner of the ward, where volunteers engage children in games and activities. Their goal is to bring smiles to the faces of children suffering, and they hope to get more volunteers through spreading words of their noble endeavour.
“For a bit of smile” has about 40-50 young people whose sole purpose is to serve the children afflicted with cancer. Among them around 15 people are from the Active Citizens’ group. “Active Citizens” is a sister concern of British Council which is working for the betterment of the society and is associated with many social service activities. One of them is volunteering to help children who are suffering from Leukemia, which is why they collaborated with “For a Bit of Smile.”
“From the medical registry, it is known that about one thousand children are diagnosed with cancer every year. There is no subsidy for the treatment, the drugs, and the transport. Only the doctors are free here.” — Prof Dr Afiqul Islam, Professor at the Department of Pediatric Hematology & Oncology.
Unfortunately the proper clean environment these Children with cancer need is lacking, which leads to recurrent infections. Infection is one of the acute problems among Leukaemia patients. Though the overall treatment procedure for cancer has improved, it is not yet sufficiently advanced. In 5 years, the mortality rate has reduced by 10 to 15% and was 58% in 2015.
Chemotherapy is no walk in the park for Children with Cancer, and the weekly visits by the For a Bit of Smile volunteers helps the children to forget the physical pain they are going through for at least a while.
Prof Afiqul Islam also said, “One of the important aspects of treatment is supportive care. All hospitals of developed countries have play-corners but what we have is a makeshift play-corner in the veranda made by the volunteers of Canadian embassy and currently run by the local volunteers working here. Improvement of supportive care depends on the volunteers and social workers. They can teach the parents about the importance of hand washing and cleanliness to avoid infection.”
The organisation is working hard to fight against Child Cancer through Awareness Building programs, and provide regular counseling to the parents and to scholars in the communities and at schools regarding Child Cancer Awareness as well about basic nursing of a Cancer affected Children, Health and Hygiene, Food and Nutrition.
“We dream no children will die for Cancer. We work together with our best effort of Head, Heart and Hand to achieve our goal.”