Founded in 1980 in the United States, Make-A-Wish has a presence in 50 countries

Founded in 1980 in the United States, Make-A-Wish has a presence in 50 countries

How does Make-A-Wish work in Switzerland and Liechtenstein?
An interview with Nathalie Martens Jacquet, Director General of the foundation, reveals the steps taken to make dreams come true for children with critical illnesses
1 Jun 2023

As adults, when we find ourselves in an extreme health condition where we may not be able to see ourselves going through any more stages, we always appeal to a wish. A wish to be able to go on living, even if only for a little while longer. And when you are a child and you have to go through a similar situation? Maybe not the wish to live a little longer, due to the natural lack of perspective of age, but maybe the wish to fulfill a dream, a fantasy, something that will make the suffering blur and turn it into a rainbow of colors, even if only for a little while. That is what Make-A-Wish is all about and, therefore, that’s what this interview is about.

Are you able to identify patterns in wishes made by children in Switzerland?

There is a unique pattern to the wishes granted by our organization that are specific to inhabitants in Switzerland. For instance, we have more what we call the “to go” wishes (e.g., travelling to a specific place or abroad) or “to do” wishes (having an experience or doing a particular activity). In some other countries outside Europe (Asia, Latin America), it is more likely to find “to have” wishes. Moreover, we can also see some generational trends. Nowadays some “to meet” wishes for our children gamers include celebrities from YouTube not just singers, actors or athletes.

What are the realms of possibility for the wishes the foundation can grant?

Most of the time, at least for the children in Switzerland this is something new for them that they want to experience. From time to time, when they have especially loved a city or a place, they may express the wish to go back there. But it is more common to wish for something new whether it be an experience or an item. That’s also all the magic of Make-A-Wish. Our motto is, “to make the impossible possible”, and that’s important in terms of impact. Showing them that we are doing our best to make something happen brings an added value to their emotional wellbeing and transforms their lives.

In your presentation you say that this initiative is intended for seriously ill children. What sort of situations are we talking about?

A serious situation is basically when the illness places the child in a life-threatening position or with extreme long-term complications. Critical illnesses include, but are not restricted to: childhood cancers, certain types of muscular dystrophy, specific neurological or genetic diseases, cardiac disorders, renal failure and traumatic injuries. If in doubt, to ascertain the seriousness of an illness our wish coordinators will refer to the medical advisor of the foundation, a paediatrician based in Switzerland, who can be put in contact with the child’s primary physician.

Nathalie Martens Jacquet, Managing Director of the foundation. Credit: Make-A-Wish.

Surely many children are left out of the Make-A-Wish selection. How are the selection criteria established?

All the children benefiting from a wish with Make-A-Wish Switzerland and Liechtenstein have to first fulfill the following criteria: to be diagnosed with a serious illness, to be currently living or to have been cured in Switzerland or Liechtenstein, to be aged from 3 to 17 when applying for a wish, to be able to express their own wish and to have had no prior wish fulfilled by the foundation. If the child meets these selection criteria, they are assured to have a wish granted by Make-A-Wish, provided they have the green light from their doctor.

How does the execution of the wish work when it involves a particularly complex wish?

The execution is all about creativity and solidarity when the implementation is complex. We are a solution-oriented organization and always try to find the best way to prepare wishes. In regards to funds, if the wish costs are above average we will have to find a donor to provide the funds. 

If the wish refers to a celebrity who is not in our country we will make contact with the affiliate where the star is. As Make-A-Wish Switzerland and Liechtenstein policy is to grant wishes only in Europe, we wait until the celebrity is planning a trip to Europe. For those extra complicated wishes we look to support from many of our volunteers, board members or social and business networks.

Credit: Make-A-Wish.

How many children are on the waiting list to determine whether or not they can be part of Make-A-Wish? And how long does it usually take until the wish is fulfilled?

We do not operate with a waiting list in Switzerland. All the children requesting a wish are quickly informed whether or not they meet the criteria. The wish journey is the whole process: the application of the child for the wish, qualification stage, wish design and wish anticipation phases, and finally wish realization and wish impact. We maintain constant contact with the children and their families all the way along the journey. The goal of this “wish journey” is to provide the child with positive emotional experiences.

What are the crucial changes that you would consider as essential to improving the objectives of Make-A-Wish? 

Currently, ‘our wish’ is to grow. The main reason for this is that we have a vision, an overall objective: to grant the wish of every eligible child on our territory. And we are unfortunately still far away from this target. Firstly, we want to and are prepared to accept more applications for staff members. If we were to take on more applications, we would need to increase our resources at both the financial and human level. In terms of fundraising, we would love to be able to count on more constant or regular income to grow our numbers of staff. We are also much in need of more partners who can support us with kind donations and having more volunteers is always essential to help make even more wishes come true. 

* Julián Ginzo is a member of the Editorial Board of UN Today.
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