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Making dreams for sick children come true

by Chris Graeme [email protected]

Julia’s wish was nothing elaborate; she didn’t want expensive toys or trips to far flung places. The little girl simply wanted to be a princess for a day.

She was dressed in medieval costume and driven around Sintra National Park in a horse and carriage complete with footmen and ladies in waiting. Along the way, she was presented with bouquets of flowers from grateful and adoring subjects before being met in front of the town’s palace by her friends, family and classmates for a royal banquet.

It was just one of many wishes that the charitable foundation Make-A-Wish carries out every year for scores of children who, for one reason or other, are deprived of a normal, healthy childhood because of sickness, sometimes from diseases that are invariably fatal.

“It’s surprising how modest many of these wishes are: a computer, a PSI Play Station, a BMX bike, perhaps a trip to Benfica stadium to meet an idolised football player, maybe, at most, a trip to Disneyland to meet Mickey Mouse or Pluto,” says Make-A-Wish Executive Director Mariana Tavares, who says that the key to making the dream come true isn’t in the delivery but in building up the sense of anticipation and excitement for weeks or months in advance until the special day that the children and their families will remember for the rest of their lives.

The concept has been well-received by professionals in the health service: doctors, nurses, psychologists, educational and social workers in the field helping sick children who often spend weeks, if not months, of gruelling treatment in hospital.

“We think it´s important because it helps to give the children more strength, something to look forward to, but, in terms of the general public, we still have a long way to go and need to spread the word,” says Mariana.

The wishes often don’t cost a lot to realise, sometimes as little as €50, but the short and long-term effects are immeasurable in terms of the happiness they bring.

The problem, in terms of cost, is often the expenses, for example, the cost of bringing a child who lives in Viseu or Bragança to Lisbon to visit Benfica and meet a football hero. With the petrol, tolls or train fares, the final bill for a simple wish can reach €200.

Generally, children wish for one of four basic desires: I’d like to have; I’d like to go to; I’d like to be; and I’d like to meet.

The charity helps children and young people between three and 18 with serious, progressive, or degenerative diseases. Making a wish come true for a seriously ill child often makes them feel that nothing is impossible, giving them the force to recover, deal with the treatment and illness, bringing hope, happiness and a sensation of sharing.

The foundation, which is run by Mariana Tavares with Wish Coordinator Inês Seco, has been operating in Portugal since 2007, having had considerable success in other countries like the United Kingdom.

“Of course, what we really need is television exposure, perhaps a regular TV programme. We’ve had meetings with RTP and proposed the idea of a programme called Make-A-Wish. We think it has all the ingredients to make a fantastic programme: emotion, joy and a broad, family and national appeal, so we’ll try other TV channels too,” she says.

“At the moment we’ve got volunteers working in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Faro and the Azores and soon we’ll have them in Viseu and Braga too. I mean, what parents, families, and viewers for that matter, wouldn’t want to see a child being made happy?” she asks.

Normally, from the first application, it takes three months to make the wish come true. The family and the child are accompanied on a regular basis by volunteers who not only help organise the wish, but also keep up the sense of anticipation, expectation and excitement. Having said that, Make-A-Wish never promises anything it can’t deliver. It can only try and make the wish a reality.

“Every two weeks we get into contact with the family in question, and sometimes we’re faced with extremely dramatic situations where time might be running out and the doctors explain we’ve only got a brief window period to make the wish come true in the case of a terminal illness.

“We may not be able to give a promise but we keep in constant contact with the family to give hope and do all in our power to make the wish come true,” she adds.

Apart from donations and fundraising activities, Make-A-Wish also relies on the support of well known and lesser known companies, which either make substantial or modest donations or offer logistical support or goods.

But the crisis hasn’t helped, and donations are fewer in quantity and less in terms of money than they were a few years ago, which is why the organisation has to work harder than ever before to reach a wider public.

There are three basic ways to help Make-A-Wish: by making a donation; organising a Make-A-Wish event and becoming a Sponsor of Desires.

If you’d like to find out more about making a wish come true for a child, then visit www.makeawish.pt or send an email to [email protected] or contact 213 562 082.

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