Sick teen's biggest wish: I want to meet the president

2019-07-30 07:00

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A 17-year-old girl who has a life-threatening illness has one wish: to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa. And she doesn't want to just shake his hand: she has a list of questions she wants to ask the country's number one citizen, ranging from politics to healthcare.

Known only as Kelopilwe to protect her identity, 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, says Reach for a Dream Foundation CEO Julia Sotirianakos. 

The foundation's main purpose is to make the dreams of children living with life-threatening illnesses come true. This can be anything: from a hot-air balloon ride to an iPad, meeting a famous person or simply having a hamburger. 

But Kelopilwe wants to go right to the top and have an audience with the president. 

READ: Young bride dies 24 hours after her dream wedding

She has already prepared two pages full of questions, written in her own handwriting. 

"You can see this child is mindful about wanting to meet the president," Sotirianakos told News24. 

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. 

But Kelopilwe is not interested in a selfie or a signed T-shirt: she has serious issues she wants to discuss with Ramaphosa. 

While many questions relate to the standard of living of people in her area, which include healthcare and education, some questions are more personal. 

Mercedes or BMW, mister president? 

"How come you can speak so many languages?" Kelopilwe wants to ask the president. She also wants to know what it was like growing up in apartheid South Africa; what his favourite Bible story is; what it was like being around "phenomenal women" such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; and which he prefers: Mercedes-Benz or BMW. She prefers the former, by the way.

Sotirianakos describes Kelopilwe as a mature and interesting young woman who wants to become a quantity surveyor or a forex trader. "She is crazy about [Barcelona footballer Lionel] Messi, she's an ordinary teenage girl who likes hip-hop and Nasty C."

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. 

"Some kids have never had a hamburger before and their biggest dream is to have one," Sotirianakos says. 

To have, to go, to be, to meet

"Our categories of dreams are to have, to go, to be and to meet." 

Sotirianakos says the dreams of city kids in Johannesburg differ vastly from, say, the Eastern Cape.

"The city kids want the latest technology - make, model, colour, they're switched on. Other kids from rural areas have never been to a shopping centre and just want to go to a store and buy clothes and shoes for the very first time." 

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. 

It recently launched a new project, Dream Rooms, in hospitals throughout the country. 

"We go to hospitals and rebuild a room so that it's completely different from the rest of the hospital. We equip it with Playstations, bean bags - everything looks completely different and dreamy," Sotirianakos says. 

The Dream Rooms seem to be lifting sick kids' moods. 

"When we engage with children in those hospitals, they don't look sick. I've seen this first-hand, we have countless stories where tumours stop growing, or we send families on their last trip together and then it's not their last trip...

"Two Harvard professors did a study on what hope does to the brain and how children just rally on and fight and get through their illness just by having this hope. 

"Hope is the golden thread around everything we do."

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Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  bloemfontein  |  health
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