Halfway along the Cairo-Alexandria highway, precisely 110 km from the capital, all you have to do is turn right to find yourself in a small oasis in the middle of the desert, surrounded by trees and date palms. Gradually, the noise of the cars begins to fade, then silence sets in. At the end of an unpaved road, a sign indicates the location of HHO, Health and Hope Oasis, which is run by Friends of Children with Cancer. A guard wearing a red and white keffiyeh and a djellaba (held by the Bedouins who live in Wadi Al-Natrun) had been notified of the visitors’ arrival. He is responsible for verifying identity cards, recording the names and arrival times of visitors. Necessary measures to ensure safety. Once inside, the deep sense of relaxation and comfort one feels is indescribable. The sounds of farm animals and the chirping of birds are heard and the calm that reigns there frees from the daily hassles and the thunderous noise of the capital.
On an area of 10 feddans extend the premises of the Oasis of Health and Hope. ” The place was created for children with cancer and the mothers who accompany them to come to relax, fight stress before or after chemotherapy sessions, enjoy a healthy eating program, practice hobbies and lead sessions. awareness. And this, free of charge for 3 days », explains Mikhail Makine, director of the oasis. It was he and Magda Eskandar, president of the association, and Fayza Abdel-Khaleq, member of the board of directors, who had the idea of creating this oasis in 2002.
Listening to every child
The first phase began in 2012 with the construction of 4 buildings consisting of 16 apartments, each spread over 2 floors, a kitchen and a small open-air restaurant. On the walls of a building is a graffiti depiction telling the story of the prophet Noah which shows the power of God to save believers from the flood. This story is used as a symbol because, despite the great suffering suffered, the person with cancer can recover. The second phase, which was launched in 2015, was completed in 2019. This is where the main kitchen with a large dining hall, the laundry, the administration office, the servants’ quarters and other rooms devoted to awareness sessions and various activities. As for the third phase, carried out during the coronavirus pandemic, it concerns playgrounds and a path for bicycles. The association provides children with 3-wheeled bicycles and relies on games that do not require intense physical activity, so as not to tire the sick.
Because putting a smile on the faces of children is the goal of the Oasis of Health and Hope. ” Although I use a cane to walk because of my knee cancer which requires me to undergo operations every 6 months to lengthen the femur bone of the diseased leg, here I spend my time doing tricks on a bicycle without fear of falling, with a three-wheeled bicycle says Abdallah, 15. This teenager is accompanied by his mother and his brother. They are from the governorate of Minya, this is their third visit to Wadi Al-Natroune. The administration agrees to receive the same family of a patient several times, on condition that the visits are made within a 3-month interval to allow new families to benefit from this experience.
” My child did not want to follow his treatment. But, as soon as he came to the HHO, he agreed to follow the chemotherapy sessions. The entertainment respects the differences and the physical state of the child “says Abou-Islam, father of a cancerous child.
During children’s leisure time, mothers learn to prepare healthy and balanced meals with inexpensive food products, but with high nutritional value. ” For the children to eat vegetables, I prepared a zucchini cake for them, sweet, green in color. Feeding and pleasing is our goal says Amani, head chef. Hiding vegetables for children to eat is clever and subtle. Amani also presents recipes with ketchup and mayonnaise sauces devoid of preservatives to optimize the nutritional values of food products prepared and consumed at home.
Adapted games and entertainment fill the children’s agenda.
Self-sufficiency and respect for the environment
Impeccable cleanliness, simplicity and elegance are evident throughout the bedrooms, bathrooms and activity areas. No air conditioners at the oasis, the roofs of the buildings are in the form of domes to allow the hot air to rise upwards and the fans cool the surrounding atmosphere. The leaders of the association advocate that elegance does not necessarily mean luxury. They insist on an important point, recycling, to protect the environment and ensure the sustainability of the project by devoting the budget to healthy food, the cleanliness of the premises and the salaries of the civil servants. Walking through the oasis, you can see bins for sorting packaging, glass, cardboard, plastic and leftover food. ” The Association for the Protection of the Environment in Moqattam installed a loom for us. We didn’t need to buy the bedside rugs for the bedrooms, the bathroom rugs or the sofa throws for the living rooms. “, explains Mikhail Makine, the director. This self-sufficiency is one of the key factors for the success of a sustainability program and to be able to welcome children with cancer. Wafaa is the only one working on the loom in the oasis. She also makes bags that children use to carry various useful objects such as towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and soaps for each member of the family.
Exchange and mutual support
Taking care of personal hygiene and the environment is part of the awareness presented to mothers during the day. The notion of cleanliness is often repeated to avoid any contagion to children with cancer, because their immunity is weak. They are already fragile and you should not trifle with their health. The stay also allows mothers to meet new people, listen to stories and exchange experiences. ” Before my daughter fell ill, I couldn’t stand watching TV ads to collect donations for children’s cancer hospitals, I didn’t think that one day my daughter would have this disease. “says Chaïmaa Ibrahim, who felt the suffering of others here. Before knowing the existence of the HHO, Chaïmaa made a big effort to entertain her daughter, since the beginning of her chemotherapy, two months ago, because she spent her time sleeping.
According to figures from the association, 4,423 children with cancer, 4,127 carers and 3,942 families visited the premises between 2012 and October 2022.
Leaving the frame of the hospital and the disease boosts the morale of the child and his mother. For the association, this oasis is a kind of passage between treatment and healing. Nutrition, awareness, games and entertainment fill visitors’ agendas. ” We do everything to put the children at ease. One of the patients, suffering from a brain tumor, needs continuous support, but we try not to make her feel that she is not like her peers says Victoria Magdi, program coordinator.
The selection of visitors is done through coordination with certain hospitals such as the Nasser Institute, Demerdach, Aboul-Riche, the Tumor Institute and 57357 in Cairo, Ayadi Al-Mostaqbal and Borg Al-Arab Al-Gaméi in Alexandria and the Tumor Institute in Minya. Doctors are responsible for choosing patients who are able to travel and be away from their homes for 3 days. ” In case a child has a fever or is the victim of any accident, we contact his doctor to apply the instructions that suit his condition. And before the child arrives, we must have a medical report and know if he has any allergies to any food product. “says May Fouad, coordinator.
She wants to explain to children and their mothers the importance of respecting the standards of the oasis. In principle, a sick child can have a maximum of three other companions. The age of children with cancer ranges from 1 to 18 years old. If his brothers or sisters come to spend the weekend with him, they must not be over 12 years old. ” Beyond the age of 12, children are too active and can cause certain problems that can harm children with cancer who are there to cheer them up and ease their suffering. commented May.
Today, among the volunteers who work at the HHO, a former patient, now cured of cancer. Ahmed Wahid, a high school student, claims to be there to give hope to young cancer patients. ” I have been a volunteer for 2 years, I have become a responsible person, I have learned to play carefully with a child who is sick with cancer. “, he says not without pride. And to conclude: Before, when I was sick, people made me happy. Today, I try to bring joy back into the daily lives of others. And I thank God for all this happiness “.