Cape Town - Imagine living less than 5km from the beach, but only dreaming of a chance to go there. Or hoping for something as simple as spending a day eating takeaways with your family.
For some children, meeting their hero is all they need to take their minds off being ill.
In July, the Reach for a Dream Foundation will celebrate 25 years of inspiring children to dream, in spite of their ill health.
Heidi Rowley, the Cape Town branch manager, has been part of the foundation for 24 years, first as a volunteer, then as a full-time employee. Passionate about helping people, she has seen many dreams being fulfilled. For her the most memorable was that of a 13-year-old boy with stomach cancer who wanted to fly with the Silver Falcons based in Langebaan.
Organisers picked the boy up at home and told him they were going for a drive. At that stage he was taking morphine for his pain.
When they got to Langebaan, he realised what was happening. The air crew briefed the boy, suited him up, and they took to the skies for a 30-minute flip. “When he landed he was shaking all over. He had the most amazing, biggest smile on his face,” recalls Rowley.
The crew circled him, gave him a pair of wings and made him an honorary Falcon.
For that short while, Rowley says, the boy forgot about his illness.
The boy’s parents phoned Rowley three days later to say he had died. But at least they were able to relive the joy of that afternoon and were grateful to have had one last good day with their son, she says.
The foundation helps realise the dreams of children aged between three and 18, who have a life-threatening medical condition. Their doctors or parents refer them to the foundation, whose work is made possible through fund-raising, sponsorships and partnerships with business.
The dreams are categorised into holidays, an experience, meeting a hero and material goods.
Rowley says the foundation fulfils 20 dreams a month in the Western Cape, and 1 300 nationally each year. Each dream costs about R7 000 to fulfil, though some cost less.
Most younger children ask to meet Barney or Barbie. Another popular request is to meet cast members of the 7de Laan TV series. Rowley’s guess is that when children are ill, they spend a lot of time watching television – which is probably how they get hooked on the soaps. Diaan Lawrenson, who plays Paula, seems to be a favourite.
Depending on the season, many children ask to meet sport stars, and Springbok rugby player Bryan Habana has proved to be among the most popular sportsmen.
When it comes to the tangibles, children ask for cellphones, iPads, and laptops. But as technologically driven as life can be, Rowley says the bicycle remains a favourite.
She says when children make these kinds of requests, the foundation tries to find out more about the child, so they can add other elements to their dream day.
But perhaps the most heartwarming requests come from the experience category.
Rowley recalls a girl who lived in Macassar, which is less than 5km from the beach. All she wanted was to spend some time at the beach because she had not been there.
Another asked that the foundation arrange a trip for him and his family to the city centre, where they could all eat fried chicken. “It’s usually the simple things we take for granted that make all the difference to these children.”
A trip that set a teenager alight with joy
Shameeg has always been fascinated by fire engines, and it has been his dream to be a fireman when he is older.
“He has a real fireman’s outfit and his room is decorated in a fireman’s theme. However, nothing can cause his face to light up like the sound of the sirens of a fire truck,” says his mother, Moeneera.
But because of a number of life-threatening illnesses, his dream is unlikely to become a reality. On his 13th birthday, his family and the foundation surprised him with a boat ride from the NSRI in Gordon’s Bay, after which he was treated to a party at the Strand Fire Station.
Shameeg was able to ride in a fire truck and was allowed to spray the fire hose.
Another of his dreams was to receive “nice clothes and shoes”, so after his party, he was taken on a mini shopping spree.
“That day was so special for him, he spoke about it for weeks afterwards. He was so excited,” says Moeneera.
Some dreams are bigger than others. David, 17, who has a brain tumour, lives for soccer. His favourite team is Liverpool, and Steven Gerrard is his idol. So it was a dream of his to watch a live Liverpool match with his best friend, Jai.
In January, the teens were flown to London to watch Liverpool play Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It was David’s first time on an aircraft. When they arrived in London, they were taken to the five-star Hilton Hotel.
The next day the boys were wined and dined in the VIP suite at the stadium. A few days later they met the Liverpool team, and walked away with signed memorabilia. The pair also did a lot of sight-seeing, clubbing and shopping.
“I really did see my dream come true. I want other kids to know that even when things get hard, they must never give up. Jai and I will never forget this experience,” says David.
Rowley says his trip would not have happened without the right sponsors. - Cape Argus
* The boys’ surnames have been withheld.
* For more details or to assist the foundation, call 021 555 3013 or visit www.reachforadream.org.za