The power of a wish

February 28, 2019 by Miriam Bell
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One moment rhythmic gymnast Noga Barkan was on top of the world – preparing to represent her country, Israel, at the Rio 2016 Olympics. But in the next moment that world had slipped out from under her feet and she was facing a cancer diagnosis.

Noga

Noga had been training since she was six and by the time she was 16 she was on the road to Rio. “That was my life’s goal. Then I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And suddenly everything had changed. My life stopped.”

She embarked on an aggressive treatment regime, which included a bone marrow transplant. “It was really hard and my response wasn’t good. I was in isolation for a month after the transplant. I didn’t know what to expect.”

It was during those bleak days that Make-A-Wish Israel came into her life and things started to look up for Noga.

“A volunteer came to identify my wish… But I always knew what it was: to go to Rio with my teammates, to cheer them on, just to be there. It was my dream. And I got to go to the Olympics, and with my family which was important to me.

The experience was amazing, she says. “But the promise of the trip also gave me something to wait for, motivated me to go on. It was a positive goal to fight for. To not just be normal, but to do something so unique and unbelievable with my family.”

These days Noga (19), who is now in remission, is an ambassador for Make-A-Wish Israel. It was in this capacity that she visited Auckland this week to help launch a new partnership between Make-A-Wish Israel and Make-A-Wish NZ.

The new partnership revolves around the concept of the Shared Appeal, which raises money to make wishes come true for children battling life-threatening conditions in New Zealand and Israel. Donations are then shared equally between both countries.

It is a model which has been in place in Australia for six years. But the idea of a New Zealand partnership came about through the friendship between the CEO of Make-A-Wish Israel, Denise Bar Aharon, and the CEO of Make-A-Wish NZ, Pam Elgar.

Denise, who accompanied Noga on her New Zealand trip, says the Shared Appeal is prompted by their belief in the power of a wish.

“There is research by the ‘happiness professor’, Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, which proves that wishes change lives. With a child, a wish can give them the motivation to try to get well, to take their medication, to battle on. That helps families at a difficult time.”

It’s a transformative process, she says. “For the child, it’s a journey because the anticipation gives them something to look forward to and that’s powerful. Ultimately, it’s all about the therapeutic and positive power of a wish.”

However, both Denise and Pam believe that they are not meeting the existing need. “We want to reach all eligible children in our countries. Jews around the world are family and so too is Make-A-Wish around the world. And through the Shared Appeal you can help a child through a wish.”

They are looking for individuals and businesses to join the Shared Appeal community, not only to give but to help with the design and auctioning of wishes, Denise adds. “We just have one goal and that is to help both children in need in both Israel and New Zealand.”

While Noga and Denise were in Auckland to launch the Shared Appeal, they spoke at both the Auckland Hebrew Congregation and Beth Shalom and attended a launch party hosted by the Honorary Consul for Israel, David Robinson. Noga also conducted a gymnastics masterclass for North Harbour Gymnastics.

Meanwhile, Noga herself is thriving. She has served in the Oketz (canine unit) of the IDF, is working as a gymnastics coach and wants to study physiotherapy. Last year she led a team up Mt Kilimanjaro to the summit to raise funds for, and increase awareness, of Make-A-Wish Israel. “It was important for me to spread hope to others.”

*If you want to get in touch with Make-A-Wish NZ – or if you would like to help with the Shared Appeal – go to Make-A-Wish NZ at https://www.makeawish.org.nz/ OR Make-A-Wish Israel at https://www.makeawish.org.il/

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