My Dream Day: Granting the wishes of Estonia's sick children

Marianne Bruhn, right, and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Bruhn was recognized as one of Estonia's NGO Leaders of the Year by President Ilves in a ceremony in Türi on December 7. (Courtesy of the President's Office)
Scott Abel
12/23/2014 1:43 PM
Category: Society

While children all over are hoping that their dreams will come true at Christmas time, Tallinn resident Marianne Bruhn, and the charity foundation she helped create in Estonia, has been trying to make it happen year-round for sick children being treated in Estonian hospitals.

Bruhn, a Danish expatriate, started a charity foundation called My Dream Day ("Minu Unistuste Päev") in 2011. The foundation tries to grant the wishes of children who have very serious, even terminal illnesses, or are undergoing treatment for chronic coniditions, by fulfilling their request for a special day.

My Dream Day was patterned on a similar, successful NGO in Sweden. Bruhn said that President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has called for more human values, was also a driver for the charity's foundation.

"Still, we get a lot of question marks from people – is it really necessary?" she said. "Anyone who has ever been a patient at any hospital in Estonia, like me, thinks that the health care is pretty decent, but the human touch and the emotional support is lacking.

"Imagine that if you are a child, and you are scared and alone, and your parents can only come twice a week, because they live in the other part of the country and they have to keep their jobs. I think Estonia has come further than that, than just supporting basic needs. Emotional values need to have a place," Bruhn said.

My Dream Day has more than 40 people who volunteer their time and services, and a group of partners that work pro bono. A changing roster of companies and private donors act as event supporters that help the charity grant whatever dream that they can make a reality.

In 2012, it hosted 30 events; this year, that number has grown to 134. Among the highlights this year included players from the Estonian national football team making an appearance at Tallinn Children's Hospital in November, and a young lady named Anette, who had her dream of meeting her favorite Estonian singer, Eda-Ines Etti, and getting to sing a duet with her. The foundation got permission to turn that day into a music video.

"What’s the value of fulfilling someone’s dream? What’s the hardcore output? I don’t know," Bruhn said. "But I just know it is there. I can see it, I can feel it, everyone can feel it [when they watch Anette’s dream]."
Bruhn was recognized as one of Estonia's NGO Leaders of the Year by President Ilves in a ceremony in Türi on December 7. Nominations from the award came from volunteers, but also other organizations, which Bruhn said made it particularly gratifying.
"I'm very proud about that. Especially as a foreigner, it's a great acknowledgement to get that kind of recognition," said Bruhn, who started the foundation with a Swedish friend. They each contributed a euro to start the foundation's bank account. "Also, it's a great recognition, considering the number of 'no' [responses from potential sponsors] that there were in the beginning."
Children are selected by a nomination board in each hospital around the country, made up of doctors and nurses. Bruhn said the long-term goal is to have a dream day for a ill child every day of the year.
"To do that, we need more shoulders to carry the weight, we need more volunteers. We definitely need more financial supporters," she said.

Bruhn points to a dream day, one of the first events the organization held in its first year, as an example of what she calls "the ripple effects" that the organization tries to create with its outreach to ill children and their families.

A young girl had two dreams; to go to Junibacken, a Swedish theme park devoted to literary characters created by Astrid Lindgren such as Pippi Longstocking, or to go horseback riding.

My Dream Day, with the help of its volunteers, was able to organize the first. But the story didn't end there.

Afterwards, the organization got feedback from the girl's mother. When the event took place, the she had no money to make her child's dream happen herself. But she had found a ways to let her daughter ride a horse several times, and it had spurred her to go back to school to improve her own skills, and get back into the work market.

"Sometimes, parents stop dreaming," Bruhn said. "That's the ultimate goal; that the child gets inspired, but also the parents get inspired and get new hope.

"They see that life doesn't have to be only devastation. You can carry on, you can build up again. You can renew your dreams and hopes in life."

My Dream Day has recently been accepted into the Swedbank’s "I Love To Help" program (armastan aidata in Estonian), where customers can donate money and earned points to the Estonian charities of their choice. But Bruhn says that charity organizations in the county still face an uphill battle in charitable giving and prioritization of the money and resources that are contributed to philanthropic causes.

"The story that I've heard multiple times in the charity world is that in the Estonian donation tradition, more private donations are given to animals than to children," Bruhn said.

"I love animals; it’s a good cause. I just think that people should come first. There seems to be an impression that government should take care of people, and people can take care of animals. But when we have the minimal state that we have here, people need to help people."

"I think we need a lot of assistance because we’re doing something that goes beyond basic needs. I really think that Estonia has come so far – it’s already been 20 years since the Soviet times," she said.

But Bruhn, who can tell story after story about the children that My Dream Day has worked with, says that one day last December summarizes why it has been an exceptional experience for her and the foundation's volunteers.

"We had a young girl who wanted to have a supermodel day," she said. "We were told that we really had to hurry, which means that they have a terminal illness, and this particular one was in pain all of the time. We had to cancel once, because she was feeling so bad. And the second time, she had so much pain that we were afraid that it wasn’t going to happen then, either.

"But it did. She was styled in three outfits, got amazing photos and got to meet stars. It was a really, really great event. But ever since the event, she has been going back to school and feeling amazing. And it's been a year now.

"The goal of my organization is not to create miracles, but I do believe that a positive mindset on your life and health and what is the possible outcome of your present situation can have a very powerful influence."

My Dream Day website:

Facebook page:

Anette's Dream Day video: 

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