Imagine a world where sick children don’t feel isolated from their peers. One where they can attend classes and see friends from the comfort of their own bed. Thanks to a recently launched New Zealand charity, this is now possible.
How Patience Project Began
In 2013, Liam Martel, a 13-year-old from New Zealand (pictured above), was diagnosed with cancer. Before his death in 2016, Liam implored his family to do something to help other teenagers with long-term illnesses. Two years later, Liam’s father, Ben Martel, launched The Patience Project.
“Social connectedness and inclusion are everything to a young person; hence their selection of the classroom environment,” Stacey Yates, Operations Manager for The Patience Project tells Parentology. “The longer young people are excluded, the more impact it has on their morale and mental well-being.”
That’s the driving idea behind Patience Project — to recognize the toll isolation takes on sick kids and offer a solution. Patience Project uses a 360-degree, live streaming camera that, through the use of a virtual reality (VR) headset, allows kids to virtually attend their school classes. This brings with it a feeling of community. In the works, a wireless camera that includes ill children on field trips.
What Are The Benefits Of This Technology?
In 2018, Patience Project did a trial run in partnership with Auckland University, where 12- to 18-year-old cancer patients from Starship Children’s Hospital tested out the equipment. The students who participated were excited about reconnecting with their peers and renewing friendships. Teachers liked the idea, too. Beyond the social benefits, having sick students back in class presented opportunities for other students to discuss topics such as illness and mortality with their teachers.
At the end of Patience Project’s trial run, students and parents spoke about how cheerful participants had been during classes. “Participants could transport themselves from their sick beds into the safe, familiar environment of their classroom and be fully involved in another world where there was purpose and laughter,” reads a brief on the trial.
The technology also helped the students feel in control (they could choose when to use it), to set realistic goals and to feel hope for the future. The VR did make some participants a little dizzy; however, the live stream could be viewed using a more traditional laptop or tablet device.
“We hope to alleviate some of the anxiety and depression that can come with social exclusion. That can be more crippling for the young person than the illness itself,” Yates says. “We’re keeping the kids connected in the hope of making their transition back into their environment easier and quicker.”
How You Can Get Involved
“Every donation helps us buy more equipment to connect more kids,” Yates says. “Every donation goes directly to us being able to engage with more sick kids. Our goal is for every child with long-term illness to be connected by the project.”
If you’d like to be part of what the Patience Project is doing, visit its website to learn more. The Patience Project is a registered New Zealand charity.