Leukemia Ward, Bari General Hospital – Bari, Italy
Wednesday 28 March by Jennifer Blackwood
This was my 9th Sunshine Appeal presentation since Estonia in 2004 and was quite easily the most fantastic reception that I have ever experienced.
We linked with the British Consul, Michael Burgoyne and his consulate in Naples who, through the Prefect’s Office in Bari, identified the children’s leukaemia ward of Bari General Hospital – or to give the department its proper name – Unita Operativa ‘Federico Vecchio’ Emato-oncologica pediatrica Azienda Ospedaliera Policlinico di Bari!
On the day of the game 7 footsoldiers, including myself, made our way to meet with the British Consulate staff and the Prefect of Bari, Carlo Schiraldi and travelled to the hospital in a mini-bus led by police escort!
On arrival at the hospital, we were greeted by about 300 members of staff, parents and children all waiting on the steps of the hospital to greet us.
As we stepped off the bus, the awaiting party burst into rounds of applause and cheers and we felt totally overwhelmed as we made our way up the stairs being photographed and filmed from all angles. All I could think was….’please don’t let me trip on the stairs’!
This tremendous reception continued inside the hospital and up to the first floor where the professor in charge of the leukaemia ward, Domenico De Mattia, welcomed us and some of the children asked us to sign autographs. We were then ushered into the sterile ward – all wearing those wee paper masks which I think were for medical purposes rather than just to protect the kids from our distinctly beery breath!
Following the official cheque presentation, we presented the ward’s Professor with a Lion Rampant flag and were then taken in to meet the kids. We had a stock of teddies wearing saltire sweatshirts, saltire school packs and Scotland T-shirts which we presented to all the kids we met and in each room we were photographed and filmed by journalists/TV crews covering the event.
In preparation for our visit, the kids in the hospital had painted saltires and other signs to welcome us and also presented us with some lovely hand made Easter decorations.
In addition to the Sunshine Appeal donation, the Prefect and Bari football club took the opportunity to provide gifts such as dolls and playstations for the kids in the ward. So needless to say, there was a lot of activity and I think some of the kids were a little bemused by what was happening round about them!
But the excitement wasn’t over for us. As we travelled back to the Prefect’s Office – still with the police escort – we were informed that we were being taken to meet the Mayor of Bari, Michele Emiliano.
We were rushed into a room and it was only when we’d all taken our seats that we realised that we were actually watching the official presentations between the Italian FA, the Scottish FA and UEFA as part of the preparations for the game.
And, then we spotted the World Cup on display at the front of the room! Apart from feeling very uncomfortable at being ushered into this type of environment, it was fantastic that the Bari authorities welcomed the Sunshine Appeal group in this way and was representative of the way that everyone in Bari embraced the Tartan Army experience….or as the British consulate summed up the trip…it was ‘love at first sight’ for the people of Bari and the Tartan Army.