Sick teen 'overjoyed' as her wish to meet the president finally comes true

2019-10-26 16:21
President Cyril Ramaphosa with Kelopilwe. She presented him with a stuffed bear called 'Promise'.

President Cyril Ramaphosa with Kelopilwe. She presented him with a stuffed bear called 'Promise'. (Yolanda Brown)

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It took many months of organising and a few long hours of waiting, but a Free State teenager has finally had her dream come true: On Saturday, she met with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss politics, healthcare and his favourite vehicle, among other things.

The wish of Kelopilwe*, 18, who has a life-threatening illness, was made possible by the Reach for a Dream Foundation. The foundation's main purpose is to make the dreams of children living with life-threatening illnesses come true.

Yolanda Brown, Free State and Northern Cape manager of Reach for a Dream, told News24 that meeting Ramaphosa was an "emotional rollercoaster" for Kelopilwe.  

"Not only did she meet and speak with the president - he also gave her a bursary so that she can study psychology next year. We did not expect that," an elated Brown said. 

'Incredible moment'

"She literally couldn't believe it [when she saw Ramaphosa]. She threw her hands to her mouth - it was an incredible moment. Everyone was happy to see him but there was definitely a very bright smile at the end of the room..." 

The meeting took place at the official residence of the Free State Premier in Bloemfontein. 

Brown said Ramaphosa greeted Kelopilwe with a great sense of friendship and sincerity and discussed her future plans. 

"What really struck me was how engaged he was. He really listened to her suggestions about healthcare in the region where she lives."

*Known only as Kelopilwe, at the request of her family, the fiery teenager from Thaba Nchu outside Bloemfontein has a keen interest in politics, as well as "typical" teenage interests such as music and football, Reach for a Dream Foundation CEO Julia Sotirianakos told News24.

Kelopilwe prepared two pages of handwritten questions ahead of her audience with the president on Saturday. While many questions relate to the standard of living of people in her area, which include healthcare and education, some questions are more personal and touched on how many languages are spoken by the president, his personal experiences and which he prefers: Mercedes-Benz or BMW. She prefers the former, by the way.

Difficult journey

Brown says living with a life-threatening illness has been a difficult journey for Kelopilwe. "It gave her a big setback in her matric year which is a very important time in a teenager's life."

Kelopilwe will consequently do a bridging course next year before pursuing her studies in psychology. "This is a reflection of her personality - she just doesn't give up." 

Following the meeting, Kelopilwe was "overjoyed", says Brown. "And with the bursary she realised that her future now looks very different."

Asked how fulfilling Kelopilwe's dream compared to others she had experienced in her career, Brown said "this was way up there." 

"[Ramaphosa] was 100% present. He knew exactly who was in the room with him, he acknowledged her family...the fact that he was so present, sincere and emotional puts this dream right up there." 

Reach for a Dream helps children living with grave illnesses to make their dreams come true. 

This can be anything: from a hot-air balloon ride to an iPad, meeting a famous person or simply having a hamburger, News24 previously reported.

According to Sotirianakos, many children living with illnesses want to meet famous people. In fact, the foundation has managed to hook children up with international idols, such as Lewis Hamilton and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Reach for a Dream deals with about 1 600 individual children annually. Some of the recent dreams made possible by the foundation include a visit to Disneyland, a helicopter ride, a piano, a big Lego train set, a visit to Durban, a Spider-Man room makeover and being a Springbok mascot, among many others.

The foundation has an annual budget of R25m which comes from donations and fundraising drives. Most of its offices are rent-free. It operates countrywide with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and East London.

Read more on:    reach for a dream  |  cyril  |  ramaphosa  |  child illness
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