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Volunteers Help Critically Ill Children from Developing Countries Feel Welcome

Ana Sophia Balanos, a 2-year-old from Belize, has undergone three major craniofacial surgeries at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU since she was brought to Richmond earlier this summer by the World Pediatric Project. She has one more surgery to go, but she is giggling and excited as she receives a visit from Spanish professor Anita Nadal and her Virginia Commonwealth University students.

“¡Hola, princesa!” Nadal says, as she gives Ana Sophia a picture book as a present. “We’re here to spoil la princesa. Es muy importante.”

Nadal, a professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and students taking her class on understanding language and Latin American cultures this summer have been volunteering with the World Pediatric Project, which brings critically ill children from developing countries to the United States for medical care.

Nadal and her students have been visiting with the children and their mothers, conversing with them in Spanish and teaching them basic English phrases, bringing the children toys and coloring books, and generally trying to make them feel welcome in a foreign country amid often difficult medical procedures.

“When the patients come with the World Pediatric Project, they’re usually here for two or three months. They’re here for very serious surgeries. When they’re here, they’re essentially alone, day in and day out. They [often] don’t speak English,” Nadal said. “To have VCU students, with their great attitudes, to come and talk to them and play with the children is just wonderful.”

Read the full VCU News article.