While COVID-19 disrupted people’s lives and changed the world, the Reach for a Dream foundation, which makes the dreams of three-to 18-year-old children fighting
Before COVID-19, Reach for a Dream relied heavily on in-person experiences, like a child meeting their role model or a famous personality, taking the children out for lunch or to the beach, or going to a dress-up party. This, however, was no longer safe during the pandemic, most especially because many of the children in the programme already have compromised immune systems.
Despite the odds being against it, the foundation didn’t let prohibitions on visiting Dreamers in hospitals, or those that were bedridden at home, stop it from fulfilling dreams. Instead, it embraced the endless possibilities of virtual reality (VR) technology. Using VR, Dreamers could be transported across the world, embark on the most exciting adventure, and enjoy an escape from their harsh reality.
“It broke our hearts to see these children, most of them hospitalised and bedridden for long periods, become even more isolated during the pandemic, and without a way of having their dreams fulfilled,” says Natalie Lazaris, Business Head at Reach for a Dream. “We realised that we had to find new ways of fulfilling dreams for our Dreamers, to continue making
Reach for a Dream now provides the children with VR dream days, including immersive experiences like Disney World rides, swimming with dolphins (a favourite among children who haven’t been to the sea), and interactions with cute Labrador puppies that play, eat and cuddle up with the child.
The foundation has seven VR headsets and hopes to obtain an additional 17 sets, allowing it to reach 30 children at a time, in hospitals across the country. It also aims to expand its existing content library of 13 immersive experiences to include hundreds of VR videos for the children to access.
“Dedicated Dream Rooms in hospitals’ paediatric sections allow children to escape from their clinical environment, which, despite being a place of treatment and healing, is often associated with pain and illness. Our dream is to have one or two VR sets in every single Dream Room across the country, which children of all ages can use to enjoy a virtual getaway,” adds Lazaris.
“At Vuma, we believe that together, through partnerships like this, we can enable our youth to have a brighter future and make their dreams come true using technology,” says Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma. “That’s why we believe so strongly in Reach for a Dream’s vision of fulfilling the dreams of vulnerable children and proudly support this amazing project. We look forward to fulfilling many more dreams together through these unique virtual experiences.”
Reach for a Dream is engaging with various international content creators to gain access to more exciting and therapeutic content for the Dreamers to experience, like running onto a rugby field with a team or racing around a track in a fast car.
“The joy of watching a child who is very compromised with a life-threatening illness put on VR goggles and experience something new is beautiful. It changes the child’s daily experiences within the hospital and helps them break away from their reality,” says
“The new virtual reality platform has changed a child’s experience of their hospital admission. They now experience new adventures from the safety of their beds, which gives them something exciting to look forward to. The children’s excitement is tangible,” says Dr. Shaegan Irusen. Paediatric Nephrologist at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.
The foundation will continue investing in the fulfilment of virtual dreams throughout 2021 and into the foreseeable future.
Reach for a Dream is looking for more sponsorships from South African corporates and volunteers who can help the foundation make more VR kits accessible and available to many more Dreamers across South Africa. Sponsors, volunteers and content providers willing to invest in this project and deliver more virtual dream days to young Dreamers can visit reachforadream.org.za/