As South Africa marks one year of lockdown, Reach for a Dream reflects on a year of tremendous change and hardship but also, a time of growing, adapting and learning in order to make the impossible possible for children fighting life-threatening illnesses.
For the past 33 years, Reach for a Dream has worked to fulfil six dreams a day for children fighting life-threatening illnesses. Traditionally, every dream involves a series of steps to ensure the dreamer not only receives his or her ultimate dream but that the day itself is the most magical, memorable day at every touch point. However, the global pandemic and national lockdown has resulted in these very real and tangible dream moments being put on hold, leaving many dreamers isolated and waiting for their dreams to be fulfilled.
“From the time that we were in our first lockdown we were a bit shocked and unsure of how a Foundation such as ours would cope with the restrictions. My first thought was: how are we going to reach out to our children when they are being treated in hospital? We had to think differently, we had to innovate and ensure that we would be able to fulfil our children’s dreams.” ~ Julia Sotirianakos, Reach For A Dream CEO.
The Foundation responded swiftly by going back to the drawing board and embracing the use of technology, starting by virtually connecting with the children and their families via Zoom, WhatsApp, SMS’s and telephonic calls to keep the families informed and to reassure them that The Foundation was still operating and available to assess dreams.
“We wanted our children to know that we are still there for them and we will get to know what their dreams are. And once this was done, we then partnered with DHL, following all the COVID-19 protocols and began couriering our children’s dreams – in a special dream box,” shares Sotirianakos.
The reaction and response from the dream parents and siblings also showed their willingness to change and adapt as they too took to technology, using their smart phones to capture these magical dream moments. “When we saw this initial reaction, we were so encouraged and we knew we had to do more,” Sotirianakos adds.
This is when The Foundation approached the F/ne Group to assist in coming up with a solution that would continue inspiring hope for these vulnerable children but from the safety of their hospital beds. CEO of the F/ne Group, Mandi Fine, and her team worked together with immersive technology experts, Eden, to introduce in-hospital VR goggles to support the Foundation’s dream fulfilment. By the end of 2020, Reach For A Dream had launched Virtual Reality Experiences with the aim of allowing children to escape their circumstances from the safety of their bed, even if only for a short time.
“As a result of the impact of the pandemic, we lost some of our donors but what kept us inspired and motivated was the generosity of our stakeholders, and even strangers who reached out through our online channels. Our celebrities who were facing the worst time due to lockdown put their hand up and came forward to support us on a series of online auctions as a way to raise funds for the Foundation.
The likes of David Higgs, Dan Nicol, the Micasa Band, Siphiwe Tshabalala (to name a few) are just amazing people who genuinely care about our dreamers,” says Sotirianakos.
Looking back, the Foundation is proud of the fact that for the past three decades, Reach For A Dream has been committed to inspiring joy for some of the most vulnerable children in South Africa. Sotirianakos continues to share that “in a country that is finding it so hard to hold onto anything positive, I want to share with you that we fulfilled 750 dreams for children who had a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness in a time when the pandemic was at its highest .”
These brave children fight with strength and courage every day, and if there is anything we can take away from a trying year in lockdown; it would be the exceptional strength our dream children have to continue and believe in their dreams despite their difficulties. The Foundation encourages all South Africans to read and follow our inspiring dreamers’ stories and draw strength from the true heroes of this time.