Priyanka Foundation

banner01Here is a really wonderful example of taking the inward focus required by tremendous hardship and the effort to heal, and turning it outward to help others heal and benefit. The Priyanka Foundation, based in Minneapolis, started as a promise between a mother and her daughter who was fighting disease and who wanted to find a way to help other families fighting chronic illness.

Priyanka Bhakta died at the age of 8 from complications of a bone marrow transplant. She had been fighting disease in and out of hospitals from 1999-2003. After Priyanka’s first round of treatment for 26 weeks, doctors gave her clearance to travel. A trip to India was an exciting event to plan and look forward to. She and her mother packed two huge suitcases with toys and stuffed animals so they could visit children’s hospitals there and bring some of the small things that Priyanka knew, from personal experience, were important for kids in medical battles. The conditions and emotional climate in the Mumbai clinics shocked and confronted mother and daughter. As mother, Leela Rao, recalls, “…the narrow hallways, filled with despondent faces, sickness and a sense of morbidity, I was shocked. Immediately, my gratitude for American medical treatment overwhelmed me, and I started to feel a sense of purpose.

As I entered the pediatric oncology ward, I saw even more hopelessness; the children were terrified and their families were racked with despair. One parent told me that the sunset was something to look forward to each day. As I attempted to hand out the toys, the kids clenched the arms of their parents. Their trust in strangers was low and they were clearly not accustomed to accepting gifts. I gradually cajoled some of the children to accept the fluffy animals. Other children turned away, crying.”

The medical care was good, but the larger picture–the emotional well-being and strength that comes from hope was completely absent. Mother and daughter saw an opening–they would create a Child Life Center in India for children fighting chronic illness and their families. A Child Life Center is all about play and laughter, and described here: “A Child Life Center (CLC) is an innovative global concept that makes a significant and positive impact in the medical world for sick children and their families. A CLC works with these children and families to minimize the stress they feel during hospital stays or visits to the clinics, emergency rooms, radiology, or surgery areas.
In addition a CLC provides developmental, educational, and therapeutic intervention for these children and their families, recognizing individual family needs, respecting different methods of coping.
Specific services include:

  • Conducting pre-surgery tours and preparation for children scheduled for surgery.
  • Teaching relaxation and mental imagery techniques to help children control pain, deal with anxiety, or cope with medical procedures.
  • Leading crafts and other daily activities (such as picnics, outings, and family nights)
  • Providing support for a patient’s siblings.
  • Facilitating support groups for children facing a chronic or life-threatening illness or experiencing a family loss.
  • Conducting classroom visits to help students understand a classmate’s illness and health care.
  • Providing television/audio-visual equipment and resources in patient rooms.
  • Coordinating joint programming with community organizations.
  • Bringing celebrities, athletes, clowns, and other performers into the hospital.” MVC-033F

Priyanka passed before she was able to see their plan come to fruition, but mom keeps it going on, and you can help with donations and volunteering. It is incredibly, life-changingly powerful to share your dream with the world.

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