It took months to organize and wait a few hours, but a Free Country teenager finally had his dream come true: On Saturday, he met with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss politics, health care and his favorite vehicles, among them.
The desire of Kelopilwe *, 18, who has a life-threatening disease, was made possible by Reach for a Dream Foundation. The main aim of the foundation is to realize the dreams of children living with life-threatening diseases.
Yolanda Brown, manager of the Free State and Northern Cape of Reach for a Dream, told News24 that meeting Ramaphosa was an "emotional rollercoaster" for Kelopilwe.
"Not only did he meet and speak with the president – he also gave him a scholarship so he could study psychology next year. We didn't expect that," Brown said happily.
'An extraordinary moment'
"He really can't believe it [when she saw Ramaphosa]. He threw his hand to his mouth – it was an extraordinary moment. Everyone is happy to see it, but there must be a very bright smile at the end of the room … "
The meeting took place at the official residence of the Free State Premier in Bloemfontein.
Brown said that Ramaphosa welcomed Kelopilwe with great friendship and sincerity and discussed his future plans.
"What really surprised me was how he was involved. He really listened to his advice on health care in the region where he lived."
* Known only as Kelopilwe, at the request of his family, fiery teenagers from Thaba Nchu outside Bloemfontein had a great interest in politics, as well as "typical" teenage interests such as music and football, Reach for a Dream Foundation CEO Julia Sotirianakos told News24.
Kelopilwe prepared two pages of handwritten questions in front of his audience with the president on Saturday. While many questions relate to the standard of living of people in the area, which includes health care and education, some questions are more personal and touch on how many languages are spoken by the president, his personal experience and likes: Mercedes-Benz or BMW. By the way, he prefers the first one.
Brown said living with a life-threatening disease had been a difficult journey for Kelopilwe. "That gave him a big setback in his matrix year which was a very important time in the life of a teenager."
Kelopilwe will conduct a bridging course next year before continuing his studies in psychology. "This is a reflection of his personality – he just doesn't give up."
After the meeting, Kelopilwe was "very happy", Brown said. "And with the scholarship he realized that his future now looked very different."
Asked how to fulfill Kelopilwe's dream compared to others he experienced in his career, Brown said "this is far up there."
"[Ramaphosa] 100% present. He knew exactly who was in the room with him, he recognized his family … the fact that he was very present, sincere and emotionally placed this dream there. "
Reach for a Dream helps children who live with serious illness to realize their dreams.
This can be anything: from taking a hot air balloon to an iPad, meeting a famous person or just having a hamburger, News24 previously reported.
According to Sotirianakos, many children who live with illness want to meet famous people. In fact, the foundation has managed to connect children with international idols, such as Lewis Hamilton and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Reach for a Dream deals with around 1,600 children per year. Some of the recent dreams made possible by the foundation include a visit to Disneyland, a helicopter ride, piano, a large Lego train set, a visit to Durban, a Spider-Man space makeover and being a Springbok mascot, among many others.
The foundation has an annual budget of R25m that comes from donations and fundraising. Most of the offices are free of rent. It operates throughout the country with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and East London.