‘Love at first sight’

Lions in Paraguay adopt a children's hospital

In 2017, on Ana Maria Silva’s first visit to Acosta Ñú Pediatric General Hospital, she felt a lump in her throat.

Silva, past district governor of Lions District M2 Paraguay, walked through the hospital’s cancer ward and saw children receiving chemotherapy. Silva and her fellow Lions had brought the children toys to celebrate Los Reyes Magos, a South American holiday, playing a role similar to Santa Claus. The space was very small and there was little separation between the children. “Even with the toys, the children looked heartbroken,” Silva says.

Lions deliver gifts to children receiving chemotherapy at the Acosta Ñú Pediatric General Hospital.

She felt an instant bond with the children and decided she had to improve the hospital. “And our relationship began,” Silva says. “It was love at first sight.”

The hospital — located in Asunción, Paraguay, the country’s capital and largest city — is the only facility in Paraguay fully dedicated to treating children. The hospital treats 360,000 patients each year, 400 of whom are pediatric cancer patients. All care is free, which has attracted more patients from across Paraguay. When Silva visited, the number of patients had recently doubled and space was limited. The unit treated 25 patients each day, but only had 13 chairs, often leaving children squished together.

Since that first meeting, Silva and three Paraguayan Lions clubs — Capiatá Lions Club, Asunción Centenario Lions Club, and Bernardino Caballero Lions Club — have continued their bond with the hospital by supporting the Mitaí Association, which provides housing for patients receiving treatment and their families. Roughly a quarter of those who receive treatment need housing, so the Lions donate food, toys, and medicine to help the families of the children.

Lions oversee renovations made to the Children’s hospital thanks to a grant from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF).

In 2018, the Lions Clubs International Foundation awarded them a US$37,203 grant to expand and update the pediatric cancer services at Acosta Ñú. Lions called the project A Bridge for Life and used the funds to expand the Acosta Ñú’s cancer unit to accommodate the increase in patients. They created a new space for chemotherapy treatments, including new beds and bedside furniture, a play area for children, and separate waiting areas for family.

The hospital grew again this year, as the Paraguayan government funded a new COVID-19 ward for the hospital, which opened in September.

Since the expansion of the hospital, Lions have checked in often, bringing food, diapers, toys, and books when they visit. They’ve also taken the children on walks at an organic farm to get some fresh air and raise their spirits.

A US$37,203 grant from LCIF enabled Lions to fund a play space at the hospital in addition to the new beds, bedside furniture, and waiting rooms for families.

And they aren’t finished. Lions are now campaigning to provide the children with 600 cotton caps featuring images of superheroes. Later, they plan to help start a garden for the hospital so it can grow its own vegetables for the children and their families.

Angélica Villamayor, president of the Capiatá Lions Club, says that the work on the hospital has made her feel good, as children now have a more welcoming place to receive treatment. “Even with so much pain, they know that there are people who give them their support and that the Lions will always be united in service,” Villamayor says.

Lions continue to stay involved with the children at the hospital, and often take them on outings for fresh air and to raise their spirits.

The project has left a deep mark on Silva’s heart. More Lions are now visiting the hospital, each coming up with new ways to reach the hearts of the children. All have learned important lessons.

“Personally, I learned to value everything I have: my health, children, and grandchildren,” says Silva. “It causes joy and excitement when you help and receive a smile or a few bright and grateful eyes in payment. Relieving pain and suffering, having compassion for parents who live with anguish over the illness of their sons and daughters; it has a strong emotional charge, but it also fills the soul and strengthens our desire to serve.”