ASUNCION – Though the usually traffic-clogged streets of Asuncion were all but empty Tuesday as Paraguayans gathered for Christmas Eve, a contingent of storytellers traveled the 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Asuncion to Niños de Acosta Ñu Pediatric Hospital to brighten the spirits of youngsters forced to spend the holiday away from home.
More than 60 children are currently undergoing treatment at Acosta Ñu, the hospital’s head of social services, Felicita Bert, told Efe.
Around a dozen of the kids, accompanied by their families, gathered in the game room Tuesday to be entertained by volunteers from ClubDeLibros (Book Club) both in Spanish and the Guarani indigenous language.
Besides words, Feliciano Acosta, Alejandro Hernandez, Vidalia Sanchez and Maria Gloria Pereira used puppets and stuffed animals – notably a dog named Pulga – to spin tales for the young patients.
And at least for a while, the wide-eyed, smiling youngsters were able to forget their injuries and ailments and enjoy the moment.
The storytellers then made their way to the wards, bringing the show to patients who were unable to leave their beds.
Carlos Soria, father of Osvaldo, told Efe he especially appreciated that Pereira read to his son in Guarani, the only language the boy understands.
“It helps the children a lot, because they are being entertained. I like very much, I’m delighted with the initiative,” Carlos Soria said.
ClubDeLibros, which began with just two storytellers, has grown over the last 11 years to 66 volunteers who perform at hospitals, homeless shelters and retirement homes across Paraguay during the holiday season, Hernandez said.
“It’s a moment of distraction,” he told Efe. “The kid is admitted, away from his environment, uprooted. The whole family isn’t there, he’s alone in the hospital.”
“Making them forget their problems, even if it’s for two or five minutes, draws a smile from them,” the Club’s co-founder said. “That says a lot, we’re convinced we are helping them.”
This holiday season, ClubDeLibros plans to distribute nearly 400 books as gifts during their visits.
The group gets logistical assistance from several national agencies and municipal governments.
ClubDeLibros operates only in December and Hernandez says that he would like to see other groups extend the activity to other times of year.
“May (the children) have someone changing their situation every month of the year,” he said.
Acosta Ñu’s Bert said that the visits by ClubDeLibros help the kids “to write or paint their feelings.”