Despite the best efforts from the cheeriest members of staff, hospitals tend to be lonely and glum places for patients.

Given that some 14 per cent of the Maltese adult population actively volunteer on a regular basis, Malta has great cause to celebrate

Stuck in bed, often for days on end, not allowed to move much, the only visitors you get are confined to visiting hours and, in all fairness, the food’s not great.

So what do you have to look forward to during these bedridden days? How about a gospel choir performing just beside your bed? Or perhaps a soft-rock group or a storyteller is rather your cup of tea.

Well then, meet Raising Spirits.

Led by SOS Malta, in partnership with Mater Dei Hospital, Malta Cancer Foundation, Voices Foundation and The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, Raising Spirits is a flagship project that was launched within the Framework of the European Year of Volunteering (EYV) 2011.

Yearly, millions of people in Europe dedicate time to working within their communities on a voluntary basis. Schools, hospitals, social services and environmental campaigns are able to make significant impacts and advancements thanks to the influx of human resources that help them out.

More importantly the efforts of these thousands of volunteers makes a huge difference to all our daily lives in countless ways. The EYV is therefore a celebration of the work of those individuals who have already given their time to good causes, as well as a challenge to those who have yet to make such noble efforts.

Given that some 14 per cent of the Maltese adult population actively volunteer on a regular basis, Malta has great cause to celebrate.

With these goals firmly in mind, the one-year Raising Spirits project has been enabling and facilitating an environment for creative and artistic volunteering within healthcare in Malta, specifically at Mater Dei Hospital.

Having artistic groups and individuals offering their time and talents to entertain patients in the wards notably improves patient recovery and community well-being. The volunteer committee has conducted research with patients and hospital employees to find out what works best before working on two pilot performances at Mater Dei Hospital.

Apart from laying the ground for new volunteering services within the health ambit by artists, performers, musicians and event organisers, the Raising Spirits project is also encouraging hospital employer-supported volunteering by health professionals and hospital staff in organising or participating in creative and artistic activities for patients and visitors.

Research held abroad, clearly shows that creative and artistic volunteering within the healthcare environment reduces patients’ levels of pain, anxiety and depression, consequently shortening treatment and recovery time.

Furthermore, the positive effects seem to also benefit the family members and hospital staff, since the feel-good spirit exuding from the performers seems to put everyone in a better mood and reduces feelings of isolation.

The two Raising Spirits performances that have already taken place around the Mater Dei wards certainly seem to keep in line with this research and have made good on the promise of the organisation’s name.

One can’t be too surprised, when considering the calibre of artists partaking in this initiative.

So far, the highly entertaining Animae Gospel Choir has visited the hospital to serenade patients with their uplifting vocal sounds, and the Dame from the Ali Baba Christmas panto show went about creating jovial havoc much to the delight of the kids. Storytellers, children’s animators, soft-rock groups, and even a poet have all contributed to the performances, each offering something different for the patients to enjoy.

Due to the nature of the performing space available for the volunteers, the performances themselves tend to become more interactive, with patients joining in, chatting and joking with the performers.

Having been told that it was a patient’s birthday, a classical violin duo delivered an impromptu Happy Birthday – a special touch that certainly brightened up that patient’s day.

It must be said that the performances themselves were organised in such a way as not to cause dis­comfort or disturbance to any patients in need of ample rest and quiet.

As the Raising Spirits project is a new initiative, the performers taking part in the first two performances were by and large contacted by the project team.

But by accumulating a large enough roster of volunteers, it will become more feasible for there to be regular creative activities on the national healthcare calendar of events, and accordingly more smiles on more patients’ faces. This will all be part of the Raising Spirits action-plan.

In fact, the second roundtable seminar, held at the end of January, was an opportunity for interested public members to acquaint themselves better with the mission of Raising Spirits. The half-day seminar brought together stakeholders to discuss an action plan to introduce regular creative activities in the Maltese healthcare sector.

Attendees also got to hear more about the outcome of the pilot project at Mater Dei Hospital, hear testimonials of volunteers and patients who were involved in the project, and put forward their feedback and ideas.

No matter what your artistic ability is, there will surely be someone whose day you can make brighter by contributing to the Raising Spirits project.

For further information contact Raising Spirits on 7983 3613 or pr@raising-spirits.com or even visit www.raising-spirits.com or visit: www.maltaculture.com