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We Give Back: Main dans la main

A volunteer's journey: learning to be a support system for children of vulnerable backgrounds in pediatric care.

May 26, 2020 by Frederic L'Huillier
Partner Practice Development, EMEA
5 minute read
We Give Back: Main dans la main

In November 2000 I found myself in the emergency room of Necker Pediatric Hospital in Paris as my daughter was having a huge asthma attack. It was so severe the nurse told me at 2:00 am that my daughter might not make it to next morning, and I should be ready for the worst.

However, she did make it, but needed to stay in the hospital for 10 more days for respiratory assistance and heart monitoring. During this time I went to visit her every single day, twice a day. Once in the early morning for her wake-up and breakfast, and once in the evening for dinner and storytime. By mid-week, the nurses told me that I was an amazing parent for coming to visit my daughter so often. I laughed out loud, but the nurses told me that in a room nearby, a boy had not had one single visitor since he was hospitalized, and that a girl across the corridor had only person stop by in weeks. Even worse, some children die all alone at the hospital. 

That is when the nurse told me about the "Main dans la main" foundation. "Main dans la main" translates to "hand in hand," and it represents a group of volunteers who visit hospitals to spend time with children, who do not have many visitors and are of times lonely. They play, read, talk or simply listen to them. Fast forward 10 years later, I am reading an article about the founder of "Main dans la main," and the positive impact it has on hospitalized children at Necker Pediatric Hospital, and I immediately remembered my discussion with the nurse. Around the same time, I started a new position at Salesforce France. When I learned about their volunteer program, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to finally support "Main dans la main." 

I started the volunteer application process for "Main dans la main," and after a few months of interviews, I became eligible for their training. Over a period of three Saturdays for three months, I learned all about children, education, the power of words, and how to behave around young patients. Upon completion, I was selected to spend time in one of the more demanding departments of the hospital, called "Pediatrie Generale.” It is designated for children who are orphaned, abused, suicidal, or who need to visit the hospital regularly for ongoing treatments.

I spent three hours every Monday evening in "Pediatrie Generale,” with my mentor, Martine. She taught me so much during our first three months together. I learned a lot about listening, talking, saying the "right" things at the “right” time, playing games like cards, dice and so on. It’s simply amazing to watch a heart monitor go up whenever a child is about to make a game move because he or she has a great hand. After the initial trial period, I was granted my badge and dark blue T-shirt as I was now an official volunteer with "Main dans la main." 

It’s simply amazing to watch a heart monitor go up whenever a child is about to make a game move because he or she has a great hand.

Week after week, I would go to "Pediatrie Generale” on Monday evenings after work, taking off my Customer Success Director hat, and putting on my volunteer one. I was amazed by the strength of these children. Few cried, and nearly none of them complained about the pain despite heavy treatments. I was able to make a difference those evenings, showing the little patients that they were not alone. It also taught me to be completely present in the moment with them without looking at my smartphone, or checking emails. I gave 100% of my time and my focus to the child between those four walls, those three hours a week on Mondays.

After a year of volunteering with predominantly younger children, a nurse asked if I could spend some time with a teenager who was "secured" in her room after a suicide attempt. I agreed and went to visit the teen. I was horrified and saddened by her story. She had undergone so much trauma in her life. After our two hours together, I left the room and walked out into a group of stunned nurses. It turned out that since the teen had arrived at the hospital, she had not spoken to anyone, except for me. That experience inspired me to attend additional training sessions that were geared towards supporting teenage patients.

Today, I’ve been with “Main dans la main” for eight years. My responsibilities have grown, and I now coach new volunteers myself. They join me every Monday, and mainly work with the younger children, which allows me to use my time to work with the teens. It is also incredibly helpful to have a team which can function as a support system on days when one of us encounters a difficult or emotionally trying situation.

Every Monday evening is different. I keep learning with the children and teenagers. Each evening is an authentic experience. The children look at you and want 100% of you. I have learned what true honesty is when a child asks you about death or disease. I have also learned to be honest myself when spending time with a teenager, talking about difficult subjects like rape or violence. But the learning is reciprocal, their strength and resilience is inspiring. They are so incredibly strong!

Every Monday evening is different. I keep learning with the children and teenagers. Each evening is an authentic experience.

I love my Monday evenings at "Pediatrie Generale.” And while I know that those days will not be easy during or after, I would not want to spend my time anywhere else but at the hospital.

Vlocity Value - We Give Back: Giving back is becoming increasingly important and is prioritized in the enterprise technology business community nowadays. Since the founding of the company, one of Vlocity’s core values has been “We Give Back.” This value aligns with those of Salesforce closely, particularly when it comes to Vlociters volunteering their time or corporate charitable donations in the health and human services arena. This post is one in a series of posts sharing stories of our employees, customers, and partners giving back in a wide variety of ways. 

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