Meet Aida - Malawi's first Play Therapist

Aida Nkhoma is a Play Therapist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi. She tells us more about her role.

How did you become a Play Therapist?

I always knew I wanted to work with children and play a part in giving them a positive, happy childhood experience.
In 2017 I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. After that, I worked in child protection for the Malawian government, working with children in institutions and orphanages. This job involved providing psychosocial support to children who had been in these institutions for a long time, as well as helping prepare children who were going back to live with their families.
Following this role, I worked with children living with HIV and AIDS, helping them to understand and navigate their diagnoses.
Over the past four years I have been able to develop my expertise supporting some of Malawi’s most vulnerable children. It really is my passion.

Why is your job so important?

Children who are being treated for cancer in hospital often feel very frightened and might not understand what is happening to them. When they must undergo painful procedures (such as a lumbar puncture – an injection in the spine) they develop fear of the procedure room and the doctors and nurses who are treating them.
I am there to help try and change the atmosphere and bring some fun. By allowing them to play and do the things they love most, they then start to create positive associations and have a more enriching experience at hospital.
For some children who are in hospital for a long time, perhaps missing out on school or interaction with their peers, this derails their development and growth. I try to help children to readjust and regain some of the progress they have lost.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Normally the first thing I do is join the ward round with the doctors. I greet the children and their parents, so they know I am available if they need me.
On Mondays we have paper rounds. This is when the medical files of the children are reviewed. That way I know when the children will have their drugs administered and can plan emotional support accordingly.
I then go around the beds and support them and chat with them when they are receiving their drugs. I tell them that we all have soldiers in our bodies and the injection will help make the soldiers stronger.
I plan my week to ensure that I interact with every child throughout the week.
I also work with the child’s parents/caregivers so they can best support their child, as when the parents are distressed, that affects the child emotionally.
With very young children it is also often better to engage with the parents so they can help me engage with the children in activities.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

Working on the ward was intimidating at first as it was a completely new experience for me.


Dealing with children who are very sick can also be emotionally challenging. However, I try to find creative ways to support them.


It’s important that I don’t show emotions on my face, even when I am faced with an upsetting situation. My number one priority is to reassure and encourage the child.


If I have had a difficult day, I take a walk in nature to clear my head so I can return to the ward and be positive and encouraging to the families I care for.

And what is the best thing about your job?

When you come in the ward and you see a child who was sad and he or she starts smiling. They form that attachment and association with me and hospital becomes a less scary place for them.


When I first joined the team there was a little boy who wasn’t able to walk. But through the medical support he received and the emotional support and play that we did together he learned to walk again – step by step. That was a moment I will never forget.

Hearing the news that your child has cancer is devastating. With your help, World Child Cancer is able to provide financial and emotional support to children and their families at diagnosis and beyond, to limit the damage cancer causes.

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