Rays of Sunshine
What did you want from Santa as a child Christmas? A bike? a Furbie? (reincarnated in Christmas 2016 as a hatchimol!) Did you, like me, spend hours with your siblings highlighting the Argos catalogue only to end up with satsumas, socks or a Linx africa set? You may have got the Furbie but what about the secret wishes you had as a child? The seemingly impossible, to ride in Santa’s sleigh or to grow up and be a pop star and sing at Wembley stadium. What you need to fulfil those kind of wishes is a little sprinkle of magic and that’s where Rays of Sunshine comes in.
The team at Rays of Sunshine are Santa all year round, working tirelessly to grant such wishes to seriously ill and in some cases terminally ill children. Be it meeting a real life mermaid, being a postman for a day, to having your story book published or meeting youtube gaming sensation Stampy Longnose - Rays of Sunshine have granted them all! In fact they are approaching 6,000 wishes in total and (apart from making circa 2,000 genies in lamps somewhat redundant!) their work literally has changed lives.
The visual nature of wish-granting undeniably lends itself well to social media and Rays of Sunshine’s engagement with stars often makes for highly shareable content. However wishes are also a complicated business and, like a lot of charities, Rays of Sunshine faces its own challenges in demonstrating to those with no experience of wish granting the value of what they do.
Often people wonder whether just one moment in time make a real difference to a child. Cynics may even say wish granting is merely celebrities piggy backing onto social good. Broader thinkers may ask should we not be giving funds instead to medical research and care to prevent other children from experiencing such suffering. These are all questions I hoped to answer in my week with Rays of Sunshine.
Having witnessed a wish granting this week I can tell you that its impact is certainly unique. I met with ten wish families at a meet and greet in central London with a well-known pop group. Upon speaking to several parents about their build up to being there, it became clear that firstly a wish is not just for a day. From the moment a child makes their wish, it can be the hope that they need to get through some of their toughest moments and it is not overstating it to say that for some it may even help provide the strength to fight each day.
Whilst I am more of the Spice Girls generation, the excitement amongst the wish children for band's arrival was beginning to get me too. Upon returning from the toilet, I became the most disappointing person in the room as I re-entered through the door causing 50 heads to turn and gasp before looking me up and down, sighing disappointedly and resuming conversations!
I spotted two wish children, Olivia and Georgia, in the room mainly because they are the selfie queens! I managed to grab a couple with them (their 51st and 52nd of the day apparently!) as they told me how that had met at the heart unit of their local hospital and become good friends. It would seem that the two have been thrown together in part by their conditions but frankly more so by the fact they are both just two normal young girls who dream of being popstars.
The wish children held a mini press conference with the band and had the opportunity to ask them anything they wanted. One wish child even asked one of the band about their celebrity crushes. There were a few muted giggles but no mention was made of a recent celebrity break up! The wish children then had the opportunity to meet their idols - homemade christmas gifts were exchanged, there were hugs, tears of joy, more selfies and high fives all around. The band tried to make each wish child feel truly special and even sang with Abigail one of the Rays of Sunshine choir. One of the children, Harry, told us all his favourite songs from their new album and how their feel good messages had got him through some difficult times. After the band had left and nerves had calmed, the wish families were whisked off to a slap up dinner in the Rainforest Cafe.
This charity goes to great lengths to take care of every detail for the wish families from their transport to their accommodation so for that one day at least they do not have to plan a thing. It was such a positive and surreal afternoon that I couldn’t help smiling and humming the band's songs to myself as I wandered back to the tube that evening.
To those who muddy the quite separate debate on egotism in celebrity culture with the merits of wish granting charities, I would caution you against such a two dimensional view of these causes. I can speak from my experience this week and tell you that the wish children and their families are amongst some of the strongest, no nonsense and most down to earth people in our country. These are people who face the reality of their own mortality (or that of their child or sibling) every single day. To take a child who has been through more suffering than many adults ever will and be able to suspend that harsh reality for them and allow them to live in the one they have dreamed of, be that singing in their favourite band or being a premiership footballer, can be a glimmer of joy in a very dark place. Whatever your feeling is towards these professions there really is no place for cynicism or egos here.
Once a child is granted a wish they become part of the Rays of Sunshine wish family, the relationship between this charity and their wish children and families is ongoing and that is something Rays of Sunshine is rightly proud of. The charity hold events throughout the year, including Sunday’s christmas party that I have been helping to prepare for (pictures to follow!). These events allow the wish children to be themselves, meet others like them, relax and have some fun during what is often an incredibly difficult time in their lives.
My favourite wish story of this week was that of five year old Jayden, diagnosed with leukaemia, whose wish was to be a policeman for the day. Last month Tower Hamlets Metropolitan police with Rays of Sunshine put on a truly epic day of crime fighting whereby a unformed Jayden had to solve the mystery of the stolen crown jewels! Assisted by beefeaters at the tower of London, Jayden flew across the thames in London’s air ambulance crew, employed the help of sniffer dogs and finally ensured justice prevailed by giving evidence in the crown court! This wish perfectly demonstrates the diversity and complexity of the wishes granted by Rays of Sunshine and the generosity of the people that went to such great lengths to make Jayden’s wish come true.
Rays of Sunshine believe we all have that generosity within us and with Christmas approaching they have this week launched their #bemoresanta campaign. The campaign is all about embracing our inner santa in small ways to help raise funds and make more wishes come true for children with serious conditions. You can have a look at some of their ideas here, spread some positivity this season and help get #bemoresanta trending.
Lastly I learnt this week that many wish children are referred to Rays of Sunshine by the medical profession. The charity has some really cohesive relationships with these institutions and indeed with other medical charities. Whilst it’s true that both medical charities and wish granting charities need funding. These two causes need not compete with the other because they provide very different things which compliment each other. It should never be a faith versus science contest for these two groups. The mental benefits of a wish experience when incorporated into a treatment process can have powerfully positive effects on a patient's outlook and even recovery. Rays of Sunshine's wishes can provide the hope and joy that medicine can’t always do, neither professes to provide all the answers but the two combined can still be pretty remarkable and dare I even say magical.
I told you wishes were a complicated business! My thanks this week in particular to Sarah May, Theo, Laura and Jane for making me so welcome.
Next week (as well as highlighting an Argos catalogue) I will be spending time with my smallest charity so far, the CHURN Project, a community charity for the residents of Cirencester.
All for now!