By SOPHIE MCCARRICK [email protected]
A stay in hospital can be a daunting experience that presents unsettling and uncomfortable situations. However, if you look at the same situation through the eyes of a child, the likelihood is that trauma levels would be multiplied, creating an extremely scary and overwhelming atmosphere.
Children at the Barlavento Hospital in Portimão now gain comfort and laughter during their hospitalisation from the regular, friendly visitor ‘Dr. Tonton’ the clown, also known as Eilton Chaves and president of the Associação Doutores Palhaços – Expressão da Alegria (Association of Clown Doctors – Expression of Joy).
The not for profit association established in February 2011 became a permanent outreach programme at Barlavento Hospital after founder Eilton set out to provide assistance to children and teenagers being treated in hospital.
Inspired by his father, Eilton grew up in Brazil watching and listening to stories of happiness that were created at a nearby hospital, due to the caring work that his father fulfilled with sick children.
Speaking about a particular story close to his heart, Eilton told the Algarve Resident: “My father once brought home a young boy suffering from cancer, whose parents could not afford to keep him at home whilst he was not receiving treatment.
“This boy lived with us for a long period of time during his illness and seeing him happy and stress-free when my father cared for him really made me want to achieve the same bond with children when I grew up,” he added.
Arriving in the Algarve in 2007, Eilton quickly got to work with his musical career and as a music teacher.
Shortly after, he got married and now has two children.
During this time, Eilton began his search for an association that provided entertainment and care for children in hospitals in the Algarve that he could work with.
However, he was disappointed to find out that there was not one established.
Coincidentally, it was then that he became friends with a doctor from Barlavento Hospital who urged Eilton to write a letter to the hospital administration about his idea; which he did.
Upon approval from the hospital, Eilton then spent one year taking necessary training courses in order for Barlavento Hospital to welcome him and now, over one year later, he visits hospitalised children twice a week for two to three hours per day.
He said: “I am so thankful for my life and my two healthy children: in order to give back to God, my way of saying thank you is working with children at the hospital as much as I can.
“As a parent myself, I can understand the stress which parents of a sick child must experience; I make myself available for these kids in order to make their hospital experience as easy as possible,” he added.
In a recent case, Eilton provided assistance to a child from Estombar who suddenly became paralysed from the waist down due to a muscle disorder.
In a letter from the child’s mother, she said: “I want to thank Eilton for all of his help during my son’s four months in hospital; he just stopped smiling and laughing. However, on the day of Dr. Tonton’s arrival, my happy, smiling son would return.”
Suited in a clown’s outfit, complete will full face paint, Eilton visits children in the long-stay paediatric ward and the paediatric emergency room, and in 2011 alone he visited more than 1,000 children.
After asking the permission of the child, Dr Tonton the clown engages with the patient and embraces their interests to make the most of his time with them.
He takes along a bag full of entertainment items such as juggling balls, bubbles, hand puppets, story books, drawing paper, balloons and more.
Following a successful first year, Eilton said: “Now I am in the position where I would like to reach out to the public to find others who share the same aims as I do, because at the moment there is just me and I can only do so much.
“I would love to expand the association so that we can have associates at other Algarve hospitals, such as Faro and Lagos, in addition to the Alentejo.”
However, as the association is non profit making and Eilton’s work is solely funded by himself and what small donations he currently receives, it is necessary for awareness to be raised in order to gain much needed support.
“It is also a dream of mine to work within the children’s orphanages of the Algarve, like the Bom Samaritano home in Alvor, where I previously worked for one year,” said Eilton.
One day it is hoped by Eilton that the association will receive enough donations that will enable him to purchase an inflatable bouncy castle for the children to enjoy outside of the hospital environment and perhaps use to promote and carry out fundraiser events.
“Seeing the smiles on their faces gives me a feeling that I just cannot describe; their happiness lights me up,” he concluded.
For more information about the Associação Doutores Palhaços or to contribute a donation, please contact: 282 183 625 / 938 512 988 / 961 934 095 or email on: [email protected] or visit: www.expressaodaalgria.com