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Books are for peo­ple who wish they were some­where else.’ Mark Twain’s fa­mous words hold the most truth when the peo­ple con­cerned are kids stuck in a hos­pi­tal. The op­por­tu­nity to of­fer them an es­cape and respite from the stark re­al­ity of hos­pi­tals is what launched “Wanna Read?”, a vol­un­teer pro­gramme where peo­ple are en­cour­aged to read to young pa­tients, ei­ther in the ded­i­cated “Wanna Read?” read­ing rooms or at their bed­sides.

‘In the hos­pi­tals pa­tients can get very bored and they don’t have a lot to oc­cupy their time. Any­time some­one knocks on their door it’s a doc­tor or nurse. When I knock on their door I’m bring­ing them an es­cape and an al­ter­na­tive for a few hours two-three times a week,’ says Gabrielle O’Kane, head vol­un­teer at “Wanna Read?”.

“Wanna Read?” is a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished in 2013 by Shaikha Shamma Bint Sul­tan Bin Khal­ifa Al Nahyan that cre­ates read­ing rooms for chil­dren in hos­pi­tals across the UAE; there are now 15 read­ing rooms. The idea came from a book-read­ing ses­sion of the Shaikha’s first chil­dren’s book, The Lost Princess at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal in Bal­ti­more, US.

Gabrielle, 38, is a reg­is­tered (non­prac­tis­ing) nurse and she has ac­crued mul­ti­ple tal­ents as a “Wanna Read?” vol­un­teer since 2015 – she is at­tuned to read the body lan­guage of the pa­tients, to read signs of pain and leave them alone or to sense in­ter­est and read to them/bring a book to them any­way be­cause some­times they say no out of shy­ness. Some­times she reads out to them; at other times she reads with them, tak­ing turns and en­gag­ing them by read­ing in funny voices. ‘My dad used to read for me when I was small and he’d use dif­fer­ent voices, if you use a mo­not­o­nous voice they won’t be en­gaged or re­spon­sive.

‘It’s such a sim­ple act to read some­one a story or to pro­vide a mo­bile li­brary ser­vice and it costs me noth­ing to do it. And I’m hum­bled by how grate­ful some of the kids and par­ents are,’ she says.

If you’re ea­ger to do­nate books, only do­nate new ones and not used ones, Gabrielle adds, so that hos­pi­tals can en­sure in­fec­tion con­trol.

Kylie Brown­lee, the man­ager of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at “Wanna Read?” out­lines how you can sign up to vol­un­teer at “Wanna Read?”. ‘In­di­vid­u­als can par­tic­i­pate by con­tact­ing our of­fice and at­tend­ing our ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions, which are the first steps.’

Read­ing to chil­dren or cart­ing around a mo­bile li­brary for them to choose from aren’t the only ways vol­un­teers can par­tic­i­pate at “Wanna Read?”.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion hosts events to fundraise and pro­vide a get­away for young pa­tients, like an Alice in Won­der­land-themed af­ter­noon tea they hosted last year and a sec­ond-hand book sale hosted in World Trade Cen­tre ear­lier this year.

‘We need vol­un­teers to co­or­di­nate events and or­gan­ise spon­sored readathons and spel­lathons at schools, help us with gen­eral ad­min and sort do­nated books at our of­fice in Abu Dhabi and to help paint and brighten up read­ing rooms in hos­pi­tals,’ says Kylie. Vol­un­teers sim­ply need to be ac­tive, friendly, en­thu­si­as­tic, happy, and most im­por­tantly, have a love of read­ing!

Call 02 5555 494 or email vol­un­teer@wannaread.ae.

‘We need vol­un­teers to CO­OR­DI­NATE events and or­gan­ise spon­sored READATHONS and spel­lathons, sort do­nated books at our of­fice and to help paint and brighten up read­ing rooms in HOS­PI­TALS’

The “Wanna Read?” ini­tia­tive has 15 read­ing rooms for chil­dren at hos­pi­tals across the coun­try; vol­un­teers can sign up to read to kids

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