Their faces light up when they talk about their experience at Casa Ronald McDonald; their eyes sparkle and they smile as they speak. When we arrived to find out more about the work of the 40 volunteers, six were there, doing paperwork, drawing up an inventory of the materials they need for handicrafts and tidying up one of the rooms in which the children play. The ambience was friendly, even though some of them have only just met; friendships start quickly when there is a shared aim of making the sick children who come to the Casa happy. They all said they get more back from the experience than they contribute.
It was quiet on the afternoon we visited. The house has room for 14 families but only 10 adults and three children were staying there at the time. The aim of this refuge is to provide a "home from home" for people who are going through a hard time because of illness. Some of the children and their relatives come and go from the Materno Infantil hospital, so every afternoon at the Casa is different. All the volunteers go for four hours once a week, in the morning or afternoon, depending on their preference.
One who has been there the longest, Pepi Sicilia, has never missed a Wednesday afternoon. She is a nurse by profession but wanted to do something different for a few hours in her spare time so five years ago she decided to volunteer with this association, cheering up the little ones and playing with them when possible.
Although María José Yuste has only been volunteering for a year, she has a great deal of experience with children. After retiring as a teacher in Salamanca she moved to Malaga to live with her daughter and still puts her heart and soul into what she loves. "When I'm with the children I forget they are ill and I try to be as cheerful as possible. All the volunteers get on well and the atmosphere is fantastic, although sometimes when the children go home we really miss them," she says, remembering one little girl in particular with whom she used to play. "Although when they go home because they have recovered, it makes us very happy because it means everything has gone well," says Enrique Bombarelli.
As María José is speaking of her experience, her face lights up as one of the children comes into the room. "Come here and give me a hug," she says, smiling, with her arms open. The little boy runs into them for a cuddle and the volunteers start to talk about what they could play that afternoon.
Adriana López moved to Malaga from Ireland, where she looked after two children, a few months before becoming a volunteer. Although she hasn't been at the Casa for long, she is also enjoying the experience and is keen to continue.
A friendly hand
On 2 February the Casa Ronald McDonald will be celebrating eight years of lending a friendly hand to sick children and their families. Cecilia Pérez, who coordinates the activities and volunteers, says a big party is planned for all the volunteers, collaborators and, of course, the children and families who are staying there. This year the theme will be sport, with a visit from Carolina González Portela, the world's best beach football player.
This is not the only celebration. Cecilia says that in May there will be a meeting with volunteers from the other Ronald McDonald houses in Spain: there are four in total, and two family rooms in Estepona. "We spend a weekend together to exchange ideas and get to know each other. They are essential, they contribute so much and without them things would be very different," she says.