Using martial arts to help kids with cancer
And in South Africa there is a serious need to help sick children deal with their fears and pain. American assistant professor of paediatrics, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg (aka Rabbi G), founded Kids Kicking Cancer that assists terminally ill children using martial arts, meditation and breathing techniques. This programme differs from others as it is a therapeutic evidence-based approach.
With his extraordinary vision and the local board, that is chaired by Dr Richard Friedland (Netcare’s CEO), children in South Africa will soon benefit from Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC).
Rabbi G lost his own daughter to cancer when she was just two years old, and working with other children years later, he realised the transformational power of martial arts to assist other kids facing terminal disease.
Last Sunday, 20 martial artists volunteered to be trained in going into hospitals to empower patients. They participated in a day-long training led by Rabbi G in Johannesburg at the Discovery Head Office, which will launch the KKC’s presence in South Africa.
“Up until now, Kids Kicking Cancer has operated in developed countries,” says Rabbi G. “Last week we spent two days demonstrating the programme to staff and patients at The Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
“It was extraordinary to see both the acute level of need and the immediate and overwhelming responsiveness to what we offered. The staff – especially at Bara – were so grateful that we had made the time and effort to come.”
The KKC exists in 46 hospitals on four different continents. “In the other hospitals we are in, there are multiple programmes, support and therapeutic structures available to children and their families.
“In South Africa, there is nothing available for these children. It is an arena of immense possibility. The darkness here is profound. And the power of Kids Kicking Cancer is equally profound to transform their lives.
“These children are going through tremendous pain and challenges alone. It is natural to be afraid. We teach them how to breathe in the light and find their inner power. They become the teachers and teach their families and the world.
“I saw the change myself at the hospitals here,” Rabbi G says.
Friedland believes this programme is remarkable in the transformation it can offer to even the most impoverished children and envisions the eventual expansion into the entire African continent.
“The children that our volunteers will work with are some of the most disenfranchised and vulnerable in the country,” says Friedland. “There is a diverse patient base particularly at Baragwanath Hospital; parents and children travel from other provinces for treatment. They are so poor that they often cannot afford to stay with their children during treatment; they need to return home to eke out a living and care for their other family members. These children are bereft, alone and suffering. They are disempowered.
“The volunteers who come, make them feel important and valued and teach them how to rise from pain to purpose. They learn how to push out the darkness and breathe in the light.
“What is so amazing is that it does not need fancy IT or Internet connectivity. It does not even need electricity to operate. It simply requires one-on-one engagement with a volunteer who cares enough to be there.
“Instead of being a victim, they are now teachers – teaching their parents, families and caregivers how to overcome immense adversity,” says Friedland.
Craig Nossel, also a board member, says that providing kids with hope and purpose is a critical part of the treatment which is often ignored.
“I have been on the board of Reach-for-a-Dream for the past two years. When Richard asked me to get involved in setting up KKC, I saw the potential to further help kids sitting in hospital beds suffering from life-threatening illnesses.”
Shane Dorfman, a respected radiologist and internationally acclaimed karate champion, sees KKC’s mission as a perfect synergy of what martial arts mean. Dorfman is on the KKC board and recruited the first group of volunteers trained by Rabbi G.
“I have studied karate virtually my entire life and meditate every day using predominantly breathing techniques. So, having experienced the benefits of this first hand, the methodology resonated with me. Of course, being a medical doctor myself, provides a different context in understanding the underlying pathology. Tying this all together is particularly meaningful to me.
“Karate is a way of life that encompasses the evolution of mind, body and spirit. The opportunity to serve children with terminal diseases is the highest calling of the discipline. It is a huge privilege to be able to give back in this way, and KKC is a perfect extension of what martial arts are about.”
KKC volunteer Adam, a trainee accountant, says: “Martial arts has been very therapeutic and meditative in my own life. I volunteered because I could see the value in sharing this with children with cancer.
“The training was hard hitting. I work in corporate. Dealing with sick children is completely unknown. It is out of my realm of comfort, but I believe I will rise to the challenge,” he said.
Brendan, another volunteer and student of Shane Dorfman, also sees this as a chance to give back. “I have trained for the past 10 years with Sensei Shane and, having assisted with teaching kids in the dojo, I have seen the benefit. It is incredibly rewarding to see their development and growth.”
Michelle Rock, mother of a child with cancer, first encountered Rabbi G when her son was receiving treatment in New York several years ago. She is touched by the willingness and care of those involved in bringing KKC to South Africa.