Liz Kabuthi prepares children for surgery using a book of photos
Last week, I spotlighted the work of Child Life Specialist Jayne Kamau at the Sallie Test Pediatric Centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya. This sustainable Child Life program is one of a kind in East Africa. The Child Life staff and founder Morgan Livingstone are especially proud this year to be working with Courtney Moreland of Child Life United to offer child life practicums in Kenya.
This week, we hear from Liz Kabuthi, who I had the pleasure of meeting when she represented her country as a delegate at the Child Life Council International Summit on Pediatric Psychosocial Care in 2014. Her reflections on her child life journey and work are deeply moving, and give us a glimpse at how this profession influences and betters our lives even outside of the actual hospital work.
Liz prepares a parent for her child’s surgery
What inspired you to become a CLS?
Mine was by default. I had never heard of Child Life prior to 2010. I was looking for something new to do after working with mothers for a long duration. I came across the advert and had a training in psychosocial care of pediatric patients. I applied and never thought much about it. In fact I did not know I would manage to work with children. This is the best decision I have ever made.
What was the biggest challenge to attaining your goal?
The Child Life Certification exam was a great challenge for me. Preparation required intense revision which made me feel inadequate to take the exam.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My job has made me a better mother to my children. I am able to exercise more patience and I allow expression and verbalization of feelings. I play more with my children and provide daily opportunities for outdoor play. My nieces and nephews have severally crowned me as Best Aunty since I play and get silly with them and always seize every opportunity to play. Child life has equipped me knowledge on child development and favorite play resources for different ages.
What do you want people worldwide to know about your program?
Kenya Child Life program caters to the psychosocial needs of the mainly poor majority in Kenya. In resource poor settings, we use our skills to work with children and their families different from the use of technology and toys. The use of outdoor play time is an integral part of Kenya Child Life. In my culture a playing child is deemed less serious and with no potential for future success. Child life has taught me about play being a medium through which children learn about life and explore their environment and that a playing child is a normal child. This has made me create awareness amongst families and in schools on the importance of play for children.
Can you share a brief story about a child who taught you something?
I met Peter almost 8 years ago. He had been rescued from an abusive home environment. He was mentally challenged, could not walk, was mute and ate like a dog. His grandmother used to chain him all day in a dark room as she went to fend for her family. Peter could not eat from a plate, he would spill the food on the ground and munch away on all fours like a dog. He was a terrible sight!
My work rota provided that I work with Peter 3 days a week. I needed to make sure that Peter was cleaned and fed. This was a very difficult task for me and I would detest the days when I had to work with him. It made me feel awfully frustrated. We had to diaper him because many times he would eat his own poop! It reached a point where I made a decision to get a changeover to another unit or resign in order to stay away from Peter. Despite my frustration I kept at it, forming bonds of friendship little by little.
One day as I contemplated this decision, on my usual day at work, I walked in to the Sally Test Paediatric Centre to the sound of Peter calling my name. He was joyfully crawling towards me. I could not believe my eyes or ears!…..it tore into the deepest part of my heart… the heart of a mother! At that point my heart changed and I started seeing Peter differently.
Peter taught me that truly love conquers all. We managed to take care of Peter till he found a special school that would teach him basic skills. On the day that Peter left, I cried because I had lost a friend that had taught me a most simple lesson on love that has huge benefits in life.
Liz with a patient who acts as a prefect, assisting other patients