Have a heart, grant a wish
By Cheranka Mendis
As you walk in to the children’s ward at the National Cancer Institute of Maharagama you cannot help but feel a lump in your throat, tears threaten to spill over and sobs have to be choked back.
Turning towards you will be these little faces – eyes big as saucers, lips sometimes curved up in smile or at most times a straight line of hidden pain.
Their faces are either full of expression, like watching a film unroll, or are blank as a sheet. The lucky ones have their cots and beds; tiny as these wooden structures may seem. In another corner there are people on mats and mattresses on the floor due to limited space and resources to accommodate a little comfort for these sick children.
You can almost smell the fear mixed in with the whiffs of medicine – and overcrowding. The mothers look stressed, harassed and beat, the children no better.
Cancer, be it the initial stages or the latter, is an unwelcome test of people’s strengths – for those who suffer are not only the patients but their families. At the National Cancer Institute, the children’s ward is in a sad state, with the sound of children crying in pain and mothers singing lullabies or hushing the crying children; it is a place where one cannot just leave without a second thought.
A similar feeling was what weighed heavily on the heart of President and Founder of My Wish Foundation Nelum Arachchige when she left the premises some years back. “The suffering there is so evident on their faces. Parents travel for miles from rural villages to Maharagama to treat their children. They cannot afford to go back and forth so they stay there with the children; some have been there for four, maybe six months straight. Mother and child share a lunch packet because they cannot afford more,” Arachchige said.
Founded in 2009, My Wish Foundation is a non profit charity organisation that hopes to enhance the lives of children between the ages of three and 18 suffering from terminal illnesses by granting their true wishes.
“Their wishes are very simple – a few books, a new pair of slippers, a visit to the zoo or the beach etc. And when you grant those simple wishes their faces light up instantly and that is the reward we look forward for.”
Comprising of seven trustees, two goodwill ambassadors, Kishu Gomes and Nirosha Virajini, with Shiranthi Rajapaksa as the Patron, the Foundation has put a smile on many kids over the past two years.
How it started
Living in Scotland with her husband, Arachchige stated that she was inspired by the many charities in Scotland for sick children. “The best example was the BBC Children In Need program which hosted a Christmas fundraiser for the children. I saw this and thought of Sri Lanka. The parents go through the same feeling of pain and despair. While the western countries have many charities to help the kids, it is not so in Sri Lanka,” Arachchige said.
“Most parents are helpless without financial, physical and emotional support at times like these. Their days and nights are spent facing appalling conditions at hospital corridors and floors. What we aim to do is grant the wishes of these children make the parents life a bit easier and enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”
What they do
At My Wish Foundation, it is not only the children that are taken into account but the parents too. The Foundation supports parents by taking care of the necessities such as costs on blood tests, provision of medicine and basic educational needs. They also provide the likes of clothing and food and cover travel costs of parents facing substantial financial hardships.
“Sometimes the situation is such that while the mother tends to a sick child, the father and breadwinner of the family, has to give up his job to look after the other children in the family. Burdening them further oftentimes parents may need to find the money to buy extra medicines that are not available in the hospital.”
The first child to be granted a wish from the Foundation was eight year old Tharuni who was half paralysed due to a brain tumour. Her wish was to visit the zoo, a place she has never been to before. Recalling the trip Arachchige expressed that the bald headed child was full of smiles at the zoo. Wheeled around by one of the volunteers of the Foundation, both the child and the mother who has spent six months apart from their family who lives six hours away from Colombo, enjoyed the trip, she said. As a bonus the mother and child were taken to a five star hotel for lunch. “This was on August 12. Tharuni passed away 20 days later.”
The latest granting of wish took place on 28 February at the Temple Trees which little Maneesha wanted to see. Added to that was her wish to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa in person. Maneesha who was suffering from a spinal cancer was being treated at home and attended the ‘Hadaka Pathuma’- a fundraiser organised by the Foundation at Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Auditorium to collect money to grant more wishes of these children.
There she was given a chance to express her wish in front of a live audience. Her wish was to visit Temple Trees and meet the President, Arachchige said. The wish was acknowledged by the President on 28 February. “She went ahead manoeuvring her own wheelchair quite pleased with her self. She spoke to the President and went home as a happy child. We heard that she is now back in hospital receiving treatment.”
At the meeting, President Rajapaksa has expressed his willingness to assist by providing land and building for the proposed Support Centre that was in the future plans list of the Foundation. Arachchige stated that the plan is to build the Support Centre in close proximity to the Maharagama hospital so that parents and kids receiving treatment at the hospital can spend a few leisurely hours away from the hospital.
“Some mothers sleep under the beds of the children. At the Centre we hope to have a few rest rooms for them to sleep comfortably for a few hours while the kids play with trained play therapists.” They also hope to provide the mothers with one meal a day and by providing them with clothing.
She asserted that while the concept of play therapists is a new one to Sri Lanka, the plan is also to train locals for the job. They also hope to conduct counselling sessions for parents there. “The parents are challenged mentally and there is fear of death in their eyes. We want to help relive the stress.”
They also hope to extend the My Wish concept to other hospitals with children suffering from cancer in the near future.
How you can help
The Foundation is run by a limited number of professionals and needs help by way of volunteers to share skills, ideas and time with children. The Foundation also welcomes one off donations, regular monthly donations, donation of medical supplies, donation of play material, organising fundraisers and corporate donations.” You don’t even have to give us the money. Come to us and we will direct you to children that need immediate help through referrals of doctors.”
“We are all humans, we must be humane and this is just a simple way of helping these children. We request everyone with a warm heart to join and support the cause.