Balloons for ailing kids

‘Balloon Uncle’ says selling helium balloons in the hospital gives him the pleasure of seeing sick children smile with joy  

l Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu

It is seven in the morning and 35-year-old Pradeep’s day has just begun—filling the numerous colourful and printed balloons with helium.

After two hours he has filled-up enough balloons with the gas to last the entire day and heads for his favourite spot, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). The crowd at the hospital, by then, has almost grown into a multitude of people, young, old and the sick.

Known affectionately as Balloon Uncle to the kids who visit the hospital, Pradeep, has today become a familiar face at the JDWNR Hospital and his balloons have become a craze among the children.

“As a recovering addict myself, I understand how difficult it is when one have to fight every hour of the day to come back to life,” says Pradeep, adding that his heart lightens up when children rush to him with big smiles to grab his multi-coloured balloons.

While Pradeep is paid Nu 300 as his daily wage, he says his employer, on an average, earns about Nu 4000 in a single day. His balloons come in different shapes, sizes and colours and the cartoon-character shaped ones are the most sold among his little customers.

The 35-year-old adds that the hospital area is the best place for his business as hundreds of children and parents throng the place everyday.

“Many parents buy these balloons to cajole their children who are often afraid of medication and injections. Some buy to cheer their ailing loved ones. Whatever the reason, I feel at ease knowing that I can add to their joys though in a small way,” Pradeep says with a wide grin on his face.

Tshewang Lhamo, 23, says that the hospital is a place where many people come in different moods. “A flower or a balloon is the best gift to lift up any kinds of emotion and I think Balloon Uncle had chosen the best place for his market.”

She adds that the ones which are shaped like cartoon characters not only attracts the children but adults too. “I never forget to buy one every time I visit the hospital.”

Zangmo, a mother of a one-year-old, says that instead of buying chocolate and other junk food for her son, she prefers to buy him toys that make her son happy.

Similarly, Tshendu Wangmo, a mother of three, said that giving her children what they like gives her immense joy and a sense of pride. “Every time I visit the hospital with my children, especially with a dental case where my kids refuse to visit doctor, I coax with them by buying balloon,” she added.

Like Zangmo, Tshendu agrees that it is good to buy toys which their child loves a lot instead of buying them junk foods and snacks which are unhealthy for them.

Tshendu’s four-year-old son, Zeenen Phuntshog Tobgyal, said that he loves toying with balloons which are shaped like his most loved cartoon characters comparing to the plain ones.

“I love doremon,” he said, adding that he also carries doremon bags, doremon lunch box and wears doremon t-shirts when he goes to his day-care center.

Another young mother of one, Sangay Chenzom, said her daughter likes hello kitty and chooses only hello kitty printed goods whenever they go shopping.

She also added that children these days refuse to visit hospitals for the fear of getting injected. “Cajoling them by buying their favourite cartoon character toys, like the balloons, is the best way.”

Meanwhile, it is almost six in the evening and Pradeep wraps up his leftover goods to call it a day.

“While I love my job of selling balloons, I wish that I could one day run my own business,” Pradeep says, adding that his job gives him a sense of satisfaction that he can be a part of someone’s joys.

One could only wish that his dreams fly as high as the colourful balloons he sells.

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