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Brightening up Maltese healthcare

Posted Date: 27/11/2011

The Sunday Times - 27 November 2011



A performer dressed as Woody (from Toy Story) spent time with a bedridden girl.

"The positive effect joyful music can have on busy hospital staff, medical students, patients and their relatives was obvious"
- Pete Farrugia

Launched within the European Year of Volunteering 2011, Raising Spirits is an important step forward for SOS Malta (partnered with Mater Dei Hospital) to bring professional performers into hospital wards, and share their talents with convalescing patients.

Preceding the event, Mater Dei hosted a roundtable discussion focused on encouraging artistic and creative volunteering in healthcare to enhance patient recovery and community well-being.

Raising Spirits defines these aims as “promoting, enabling and facilitating an environment for creative and artisticvolunteering” across Maltese healthcare institutions, “to improve patient recovery and community well being holistically”.

The project’s official literature is clear that the initiative will be a flagship endeavour that complements Mater Dei’s existing voluntary services.

Speaking with project manager Nicola Critien, it was clear that every effort had been made to gauge what patients and hospital workers thought about introducing small performances around the wards, in a sensitive and respectful way.

“The organisation group consists of eight volunteers from backgrounds that include drama, social work and music,” said Critien.

“They received interactive training, and there’s now a committee dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of events in hospital. We plan to expand the group, and make sure these initiatives remain sustainable.”

The evening began with music in the hospital’s reception area, courtesy of Animae Gospel Choir. Founded by singer Glen Vella in 2008, the choir has performed on TV, radio and at events across Malta. They opened with He is Exalted and continued the performance with similarly edifying, soulful songs – a perfect complement to the rich variation of voices.

The group concluded with a passionate rendition of Darlene Zschech’s classic Shout To The Lord, drawing people from all around the foyer.

The positive effect joyful music can have on busy hospital staff, medical students, patients and their relatives was obvious.

Animae’s particular brand of Maltese gospel singing brings with it the kind of message that might not be to everyone’s taste, but if there were any sourfaces in the audience I didn’tsee them.

The Once Upon A Time team of animators (a collective that has included Thea Garrett, Malta Eurosong 2010 winner) brought some Disney-inspired, interactive fun to the children’s Fairyland ward.

Two performers dressed as Woody and Jessie (lifted from Pixar’s Toy Story) spent time with a bedridden little girl, entertaining her with puppets and jokes to the delight of the girl’s grandmother.

The duo continued in thecommon playroom Pixie Hollow, where boys and girls were encouraged to complete creative activities and talk about their lives outside the hospital.

Marlene Abela regaled patients with story narration, and a “soft music band” led by Lino Azzopardi played a selection of 60s hits.

Older patients from the surgical wards sat and listened, one woman wiping away a tear when the group began to sing More Than Words. They also included a Maltese song, Xemx, and the audience was pleased to join in.

By championing performance-based volunteer initiatives at Mater Dei Hospital, the project is set to change local attitudes to volunteering in healthcare.

Perhaps the group should also focus on promoting the events, gearing up the hospital wards for what would promise to be an enjoyable event in an otherwise quite anxious environment.

Although the audiences appreciated the music and animation, there were few patients who actually knew about the performances.

Basically, this is a worthwhile first step towards a holistic vision of community-driven work, with and within healthcare institutions. Another series of events are planned for December 13, and greater visibility would generate the excitement that will help transform this initiative into something quite special and ultimately, of benefit to both organisers and patients.



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