Making dreams of critically ill Lebanese children come true
BEIRUT - Meeting their football idols, visiting Disneyland Paris, going on a plane or stepping into a soldier’s shoes for a day are some of the wishes that critically ill children have been able to fulfil with the help of Lebanese NGO Tamanna.
In partnership with Air France Lebanon, Tamanna — “Make a Wish” — is hoping to make dreams come true for a larger number of children. Since May 30 and for a year, Air France is donating $1 for each ticket to Paris purchased in Lebanon to fund a wish of a child to go to the Disneyland park near Paris.
Inspired by the Make-a-Wish Foundation in the United States, Tamanna has granted more than 1,900 wishes since it was established in 2005 after founder Diala el Fil lost her son in an accident.
“El Fil wanted to do something positive by bringing a smile to the face of suffering children fighting death,” said Tamanna Executive Director Soraya Barbir. “We grant the wishes of children regardless of their nationality, religion or socio-economic background as long as they are being treated here in Lebanon.”
Many of the children are Syrian or Palestinian refugees, in addition to Lebanese who are often from an underprivileged background. Any patient aged 3-18 is eligible to make a wish to Tamanna.
The NGO is contacted by medical staff across Lebanon for psychological support when a child is at his or her lowest and not responding to medication or fighting back, Barbir said.
“This is when they need a push, especially the children who have been in hospital for 3 or 4 years,” she said. “They don’t know what life is really about and by experiencing something beautiful it gives meaning to their life, something to fight for.”
Barbir said wishes come in four categories: I wish to meet, I wish to be, I wish to have and I wish to go.
“I wish to go” and “I wish to meet” being the most requested, Air France and Tamanna officials said they hope to gather donations to make the wishes of as many children as possible come true.
While boys mostly want to meet international football players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, girls wish to see the Disney princesses and local celebrities, Barbir noted.
“The majority of children want to go somewhere,” Barbir said. “Since many come from poor families, travelling is not an option for them. They’ve never been on a plane. They probably would not go on a plane again and, by taking them to magical places such as Disneyland and Paris, it makes it really an extraordinary experience.”
Air France joined Tamanna to make the dreams of the children fly, says Bart Koot, the airline’s commercial director for Near East.
“Air France is present around the world and we care about the communities around us. There is nothing more important than caring for the children who suffer so much,” Koot said.
A 6-year-old cancer patient who had the wish to see an aeroplane was hosted on an Air France aircraft. “He was in the cockpit, participated in the aircraft ground handling, saw the engines and talked to the engineers. It was a memorable day for him, different from going to the hospital,” Koot said.
Another child who wished to experience being a soldier had a red-carpet reception at the Lebanese Ministry of Defence where he was welcomed by the minister and granted the rank of a corporal, Barbir recalled.
“He was dressed in military fatigues, drove in a tank and went at sea with the navy and on a military helicopter. It was really magical and it helped a lot in his case. This is where we see miracles happening,” Barbir said.
While many cases have happy endings, Tamanna comes across some very emotional and sad stories.
The wish of a 6-year-old girl with terminal illness was to see her father, whom, she was told, was working abroad to sustain his family.
“In fact, the father was in jail in a European country,” Barbir said. “We hired a lawyer to negotiate with the judge to have the little girl visit her father. The judge accepted and they met at the hotel so that the girl would not be traumatised by seeing him behind bars.”
“They spent 5 hours together. The girl had her pocket money that she gave to her father saying: ‘Here is the money. You can come home now.’ The judge was so touched by the girl and granted the father early release so he could spend the last moments with his daughter and this is what happened,” Barbir said.
“It was very intense, very beautiful and very emotional.”