As I walk across the corridor of the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Rohini, I mentally run through the instructions given to me the previous day by Manasmita Patra at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s (MAWF) Delhi centre. Talk to the children with care and understanding; give them hope and make them feel good; and most importantly, find out what their most cherished wish is—a wish that is not influenced by their parents.
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Prabhjot, a six-year-old leukaemia patient, is lying on the second-last bed of the children’s ward. I accompany two other volunteers—Nidhi and Kanika, both undergraduates at Delhi University. He turns our way and a wide smile lights up his face when he sees Nidhi holding up a gift-wrapped box—after all, his wish is going to be fulfilled today! He tears open the wrapping to reveal a shiny red car. “It is much nicer than cars my friends have,” says a shy but radiant Prabhjot.
We then make our way towards the ward’s newest member, five-year-old Neha, to find out if she has a wish. The tiny tot, who also has leukaemia, is slightly sedated after her first chemotherapy session. We start chatting about her school, friends, what she likes, what she doesn’t. As Nidhi takes the lead in finding out more about Neha’s wish, I begin to see what it means for these children to have a wish-granting “Santa Claus” at hand.
Common wish requests include a desire to meet celebrities (actors Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are popular), and going for a trip with their families within the country. Normally the MAWF volunteers take down three wishes that a child has and work to grant the most cherished one, if possible. “We have always managed to fulfil at least one of the three wishes,” says Patra.
Apart from the age bracket (3-18 years), the only criteria that MAWF applies while choosing a child to grant a wish is that the child should be suffering from a life-threatening illness. The children are chosen on recommendations by doctors from different hospitals. “We don’t look into the child’s social background or financial circumstances. We are just concerned with what his or her most cherished wish is, and we set about making it come true,” says Patra. Most of the funds that make these wishes a reality come from companies, individual donations and through donation boxes left at shops.
Supercop: Ravi, 15, gives out tickets to traffic rule violators. Make-A-Wish Foundation
“The most touching wishes are those in which the children want to become something, such as a doctor, a fairy or even a pilot,” says Patra, my mentor and the foundation’s programme manager in Delhi. Like an 11-year-old child in Ahmedabad, who wanted to be a pilot. The MAWF got in touch with Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd, which allowed them to bring the child and let him spend time with one of the staff pilots for a day. He got to wear a uniform, sat in the cockpit, and even “flew” the helicopter as a co-pilot.
Another wish that stands out is one by 15-year-old Ravi, also in Ahmedabad, who wanted to become a policeman for a day. MAWF approached the local police station and with their help had him sworn into the city police force, where he got to patrol the city and issue traffic tickets to offenders.
The foundation was started in India by Gita and Uday Joshi in 1996, after their son Gandhar, who was suffering from leukaemia, had been granted his wish to spend a couple of days in Disneyland by the foundation’s main branch in the US (he passed away a couple of months later). The couple was so touched by the selflessness of the action that they came back and established the foundation’s Indian arm, which is now headquartered in Mumbai.
Over the past 12 years, the foundation has granted at least 14,000 wishes in the nine cities— Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa, Jaipur, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Pune—where it has centres. “We try and grant the wishes as soon as possible since many of these kids don’t even have a month more to live,” says Patra.
Back at the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, we have a wish for a red dress and a pair of blue jeans from Neha.
If you want to volunteer
MAWF is always in need of volunteers to talk to the children and find out their wishes and for event-specific work. For fieldwork, people with a background in psychology are preferred because “such people can talk to the kids better”. The volunteer work is usually for a minimum of six months and it requires two days’ training with MAWF.
Rs5,000 for this charity can
Be added to the foundation’s central bank and used to fulfil any number of wishes
Fulfil a wish from the foundation’s pending list that you want to sponsor. A photograph of the wish-granting ceremony, along with the child’s details, are sent to the donor, who can choose to be present at the time the wish is granted
Sponsor an event. The foundation organizes regular events such as sponsoring someone at the forthcoming Delhi half-marathon
People like us
Cancer Foundation of India
Money: The foundation works for the prevention and detection of cancer in rural areas in West Bengal. Donations will be used to fund research.
Time: People with a medical background are needed to accompany workers to rural areas on projects.
Contact: Email email@example.com
Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA)
Money: Although donations of all amounts are welcome, Rs40,000 will sponsor a child for a year, paying for medicines, counselling, food, clothing, accommodation and education. Donors will be sent regular progress reports of the child they sponsor, irrespective of the amount donated. Donors can also sponsor gifts or wishes for the children.
Time: CPAA organizes three-day training workshops every month that interested volunteers can attend. They are then trained further for 7-10 days by counsellors, and those interested can help in palliative counselling of patients and family members.
Contact: ‘www.cpaaindia.org’ or call 022-24924000