Robin is a loving and inspiring woman. She is persistent and doesn’t give up. She believes life is a gift and is willing to share her gift with everyone around her. She is passionate about what she does and is committed to making a difference. She is positive and believes in respecting the different cultures around her. Her mantra is to blossom where she is planted, and that’s exactly what she’s doing-in her new host country, Qatar!
Robin has dedicated her life to volunteering for the society’s weakest and those who are in need. She volunteers at a special needs Pediatric Residential Unit in the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) in Qatar and within a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the US. In this interview, Robin tells us all about her passion to volunteer, her dedication to touch lives and her commitment to make a difference where it matters, along with the challenges she has faced to become a volunteer in Qatar.
Robin, you volunteer in Qatar and also in the US.
Could you describe what it’s like, volunteering in those two very different places?
Here in Doha, I would often go into the special needs pediatric unit just to see the children-newborns to age 14. It’s a very emotional unit and when I first started going there, I gravitated to this one patient and I devoted my time to this one patient. My goal was to hold the children. That’s what I did in the United Stated and that’s all I wanted to do, but that’s not always possible when there are so many patients. I would spend my three hours with the children in the unit. Often the children would fall asleep in my arms.
There was one child in particular. I would go in, scrub and wear a surgical gown so me and this little one would not contaminate each other. What I would do is-he was in a crib-I would just take him in my arms and hold him. He was unable to speak and I would just sing to him very softly. In most hospital environments, the nursing staff tends to be loud when they speak. But I was very gentle and just loved him. I played with him, held him in my arms or I would sit him in his crib. It’s amazing how children can communicate with their eyes. That’s how we communicated. I am a speech therapist by training, so I brought things in to stimulate him, like little musical instruments. I went back every week and I was very welcomed in the unit once they knew who I was and that I was competent. I also encouraged the medical staff.
Tell us about the journey that brought you to these places.
I began my search at the Human Resources (HR) department. They directed me to another ofﬁce, so I was taken all the way around. You had to be very determined, not to give up. I sat with the director and she wanted me to do other things, but I was very insistent that I just wanted to hold babies and that’s how it all began. She contacted HMC and the social worker. I went over and spoke with her and then it just progressed. It wasn’t easy though because in this country (Qatar), I really believe in my heart that the concept of volunteerism is not very well-known. They could not understand that I didn't want any money, that I just wanted to gift my time and love to the children. You could call it my ‘love-gift’ and I enjoy doing it, just to see the outcome-what it did to this patient-is such a blessing. It’s very two-fold. Just the people that I’ve met and the barriers that have come down between the cultures makes it all worth it.
What is the most rewarding aspect of volunteering for you?
Touching lives and unconditionally putting into practice the very essence of who I am. This is my ‘love-gift’. I have a sense that I am doing something - something good-even. There are even times when I go into the hospital and no one wants to be held. That does happen. I had one patient who only had to look at me and she would scream. She was terriﬁed of me for some reason! In the US, if there were no patients to hold I would sit and answer the phone for one hour. Here I can’t do that because of the language barrier, but I help the staff with whatever they are doing. It’s so trivial but it means so much to them. I’ve learned so much about so many different cultures, here as well as in the US, because the staff is multi-cultural. It’s interesting and I get to learn so much.
What difference does your volunteering make and how do you notice this?
They smile, because I smile all the time. I can’t help it and people respond to that. They really do. And the fact that this one child recognized my voice as soon as I came through this locked unit means so much. As soon as I would start to speak, the nurses would come out and say: ‘You have to see this! Wait until you get down here, he recognizes your voice!’. There is no feeling like that. It’s hard to describe, but you could buy nothing in this world, that would give you the same sense. You are making a difference in someone’s life. I really don't have many words to describe it.
And what about volunteering in the US?
It’s the same way in the US in the Neonatal Intensive Care. These are babies that are born very premature or have physical and medical problems. The nurses are so busy-they have to document everything and it’s the same here in Doha. So, between caring for the children the way they need to be cared for and then doing the documentation, if there is an extra need, which is not a part of the patients healthcare, they are not able to do it. When I’m there, I am able to assist. I also encourage the staff by giving them a pat on the shoulder: ”tomorrow’s going to be a new day” or I’ll walk in and say: “Happy Monday!”.
Many parents, for various reasons, are not able to be there all the time. They may have other children at home, work outside the home or may not be well themselves. And that’s where I come in. When they can’t be there, I am. Me holding the patient is called kangarooing. It’s where you hold the child close so they can feel your heart. It nurtures these youngsters and has been found to be very beneﬁcial-just to whisper to them softly. I love them all, I truly do.
What is the biggest difference between volunteering in Doha and in the US?
Volunteering in the US is very common, here it’s not. Here i Qatar I was breaking barriers and opening doors, I had to be respectful of the culture here as well. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing or maybe it’s the faith of the majority of the people that live here, that it’s not appropriate for a stranger to be so intimate with their child. That may be why the staff at the HMC are very protective of the children in their care. When I started volunteering there, the head nurse said there was no way, absolutely no way, I could do what I wanted to. Finally, she said, I could come back. She's a good friend of mine now. I live my personal faith. And also, I wear an Abaya, and that also makes a difference. I do not cover my head, but if I am going in a business place that is Qatari, I personally want to show respect. Many men and women have approached me and thanked me, telling me how much it means to them. It’s just to show respect. I made that decision before I even moved here and I know not all women share the same mindset, but I think that has had an impact. My life’s mantra is to blossom where I am planted. So, I am blossoming.
Do you think more people should get involved as a volunteer? If so, why?
Paid staff are often busy and, possibly, over extended with work responsibilities. Some businesses have insufﬁcient funds to pay the needed extra attention in some areas at their work space and that’s why they welcome the extra help give by volunteers.
How do you think we can get more people involved as a volunteer in Qatar?
I would say the vast majority of expats want to, but they do not know where to go and once they go, they are often stopped, maybe because it’s not a concept they are familiar with here. So, I tell people to be persistent because I know it gets frustrating when you're told ‘no’ all the time. What’s really important is that you have the mindset and know where you want to be, and just, push, push, push, because many doors will be closed. I tell them that if they keep pursuing the matter, eventually they will be rewarded.
Could you give some examples what people could get involved with?
There is a program at Weill Cornell Medical School in Education City-Standardized Patients, but this is not advertised. If you contact them, they will tell you, what you have to do is act as a patient for third year medical students. The faculty will email you the illness and its symptoms. You then have to come in, pretend you are very sick and that you have the symptoms emailed to you. The students then try to diagnose the problem. The faculty monitors the process and you give your input as the standardized patient.
And what would your message be to all these women at home who would want to get involved as well?
Take a deep breath and go and do it. Don’t give up because some doors will be shut. I know there is work over there-volunteer work. What I do is I listen and I am not afraid to ask and that’s what I tell expats to do.
Are there certain skills or training you need to be able to volunteer like you do?
Some organizations may require you to attend basic ﬁrst aide, safety and other health related classes. The most important skill to have, though, is a desire to help and make a difference wherever you are needed.
If you could have a super power what would it be?
I already have a super power-my faith.
Do you have one last tip for our members?
Reach for your dreams!