One day. 24 hours. 1440 minutes. 86400 seconds. It is not much for most of us, who spend this time in a hurry; for work, for a meeting, for a bus. A slightly overused motto „Carpe diem! Seize the day!” brings a smile of pity to our faces, because who has time for that and who believes that one moment can make a difference, if there are so many of these moments in our lives and „we still have time to seize them”. Not everyone can be so sure of that though. Because what is a child supposed to say, if it has not yet managed to make its dreams come true and because of the sickness it may never get a chance to do so?
We often hear that one day is enough to change someone’s life. Estonian foundation Minu Unistuste Päev proves it really is. That a single day may determine whether a child finds inner strength to fight the illness, or if it smiles on the last days of its life. Minu Unistuste Päev makes impossible possible, so that sick children could live their dreams even just for one day. When we imagine such a day, we think „a day on a movie set”, „a trip to a distant part of the world”… But it turns out that for some children a ticket to a cinema is all they wish for. Not all of them are reached with the realization of the dream on time, but the thought that they passed away thinking of the upcoming dream-day brings even the smallest relief. We managed to talk to the director and the co-founder of the foundation, Marianne Bruhn, who told us about making big dreams of small people come true.
How the idea of creating the foundation was born?
In summer 2011 Helena Almqvist and I put 1 EUR each on a bank account and founded Heategevusfond Minu Unistuste Päev SA. Proud motherhood and a general need to do something more, to contribute to positive change in society, drove us to realize our own dream of starting an NGO together. We had detected a lack of support for the emotional needs of children in treatment at Estonian hospitals and we decided to do something about it. We were very inspired by the Swedish Foundation Stiftelsen MinStoraDag and its founder, Claire Rosvall, who gave her permission and advice on how to start a similar foundation in Estonia. Today Claire Rosvall is a mentor for Minu Unistuste Päev and our foundations benefit from mutual exchange of knowledge and experience. In November 2011 we signed a partnership agreement with Tartu Ülikooli Kliinikum and in February 2012 with Tallinna Lastehaigla. Since 01.01.2012 we are also included to the income tax exemption list, which means that the donations made to us can be excluded from taxable income. In spring 2012 we organized our first dream event. A young teenage girl wrote the following in our guest book: „I want to say a big „thank you” to Minu Unistuste Päev. The volunteers were really friendly and made even the shiest of girls comfortable. Your event did not only nourish our bodies but also our souls”. From there on we knew that we were on the right track.
What is the main purpose of Minu Unistuste Päev?
Main purpose is to offer ill children hope, joy and encouragement. With our amazing events we offer the children and their families emotional support and stress relief. A belief in a positive tomorrow. Child’s imagination is not ill, just because the body is.
How many children have you helped so far?
We estimate that during the last 3 years we have involved 3500 ill children and family members. During the first year, 2012, we realized 30 events, in 2013 – 90, and last year – 134 various dream events. We realize big individual dream days for severely ill children, but also many group events at hospitals, as well as family dream days outside the hospitals. We do group events also to reach more children. But we see that the individual dream days make the biggest impact on children.
What was the biggest dream you made come true for a child?
Tough question. Big for whom? We have children, who think and think what their biggest dream could be and then they come back after 2 months and ask for two tickets to the cinema. That humbles us. Then we understand the life situation they are in. We get small dreams like that or „I want to ride a horse” or „go to the zoo”. And then we try to add some extra magic to that dream. Other children have no problems dreaming big. Polina flew in an airballoon, Anette sang a duet with her biggest idol in a recording studio, Grey’s Anatomy fan, Ingel-Britt, dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon and got to be a doctor for one day and witnessed two brain surgeries with a real life McDreamy, Anastassija got to be a princess in a castle, Daniil visited Legoland amusement park in Denmark, Nadezdja experienced the tulip festival in the Nederlands…
What are the biggest problems that the foundation faces every day?
I have to say scarce monetary resources. We operate on a VERY modest budget and have only one person as hired staff, working for a very low salary. Hence, our administration has to run very fast every day to keep up. Furthermore, we are very dependent on voluntary working hours given by volunteers. But what is also a problem is that some people think that what we do is not necessary and too luxurious. My answer to that is: try to live the life of a family with a child suffering from cancer for a day and you would want to give them a trip to the moon.
Your foundation has a patron, Lenna Kuurmaa. What is the patron’s role in your foundation?
The role of the Patron is to help increase the awareness of our foundation’s existence and draw increased attention to the emotional needs of ill children and their families.
How and why did you choose Lenna to be your patron?
Lenna is a very talented woman, who has excelled in her line of business. She is also intelligent, warm, she is a good public speaker, has a very good reputation and she is a mother. When the need to change patron occurred, she was or first choice. We had noticed her being active in a related charity campaign and thought our cause might interest her. And it did!
What did she say when you asked her about that?
She said yes right away! We had a long first meeting at a cafe where Lenna was really moved by stories about the ill children. The pain the families must go through.
What does it mean for your foundation to have a patron in one of the most famous women in Estonia?
It’s an energy boost. It means more people have noticed us. Normally we have 5-10 people interested, when we have meetings for new volunteers. After Lenna came onboard, there is an increased interest to become volunteers. In January 46 people signed up. We call that „the Lenna effect”.
How does your co-operation with the patron look like?
Right now we are on pause, because Lenna is on a maternity leave. And we wish her all the best and good luck. We will pick up our co-operation again in fall. But Lenna did a lot for us before that. She invited us along her Christmas concert tour. Volunteers accepted donations at all concerts and she talked about our work on stage and encouraged her fans to donate. We raised about 2400 EUR for 2015 events there. She also created awareness by giving an interview in a popular morning TV show and she was also on the cover of Hello! magazine January issue, where she spoke about her becoming patron of Minu Unistuste Päev.
Minu Unistuste Päev’s work is based on volunteers. How many of them are there and what is their job?
We have approximately 50 volunteers. Most volunteers have the job of being project managers at the events. A few are trusted team leaders. And a handful help with administrative work, fundraising work etc. We also have great pro-bono partners, who give us free accounting help, free communication help, free legal help, etc.
What does the process of fulfilling a child’s dream look like?
Nomination boards at 4 different hospitals in Estonia, consisting of doctors, send in their nominations for children, who they feel are in special need of encouragement at the moment. A volunteer calls the parents and agree for a meet up with the child. Then we break the news that they can have a big dream day. Some children know right away what they dream of; other children want to think about it. In all cases we encourage them to think it over. When we know the dream, volunteers start fundraising, organizing free helicopter ride, discounts on train tickets to Tallinn, they try to locate cell phone number of X idol, or whatever we need to create the perfect event for the child. We always try to keep the child in the loop on how things are developing, so they have something great to look forward to. It’s so much more than just one day. We always invite the whole family. We believe that a great experience becomes larger, if it is shared with your loved ones.
How can people contribute to your foundation?
If they know someone who does something amazing in Estonia that could be cool for the children to experience, they can share their contacts with us. Also, we are looking for a pro-bono printing partner and a pro-bono super market chain, since we almost always have food and drinks or at least snacks at our events. Otherwise, I have to say that a monetary contribution, small or big would be a very big help. That would help us fulfill even more dreams in 2015!
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part is knowing that some of the children we help will not be here next year. I feel for those families left behind with the grief. But I do believe that if they got an individual dream day then at least they got to see one BIG dream come true. Many people go through life without daring to reach any of their own dreams. And the family will have the memories of a day when their child was happy, when they were a family again, when their child smiled. That is worth a lot.
I remember one case, when an older teenage girl was so withdrawn and depressed, because she had understood that her chances of survival were not looking good. She had no dreams anymore. We could not reach her. That was tough. We cannot help all, unfortunately.
You not only organise big individual dream days, but also some great group events and therapies. Please, tell us something more about them.
Some events are more suitable as a group event. We have brought in theatre plays, music performances, the Estonian national football team, etc., to the hospitals. Or outside hospitals, we had 20 people backstage at Lady Gaga’s concert. Or children’s cooking day, or a family golf day, cool museum visits, wellness days, and so on. We also finance returning visits from therapy dogs to the hospital departments. Very cute. Some children do horse-therapy for a longer period of time.
How would you, in max. 3 sentences, persuade people to get involved in helping your foundation and the children?
Ill children at hospitals feel isolated, different, scared and when they can attend school, some even get bullied for looking different. Children like these deserve special attention. They and their families deserve to see their dreams come true. You can help too!
To get to know more about the Minu Unistuste Päev foundation and find a way to help or contact them, please go to minuunistustepaev.ee. Let’s help!