Memories for a lifetime

Krysta
Krysta Carroll
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Botwood woman grants wishes to terminally-ill children in Poland 

During her trip with the Coalition For Kids Journey for a Lifetime program, Cheyanne Smart was also able to see some of the landscapes and scenery Poland had to offer, including the Majdanek Memorial at the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Lublin. — Photo courtesy of Cheyanne Smart

Grand Falls-Windsor — Botwood’s Cheyanne Smart was able to grant wishes to children last month in Poland, and in turn, the trip enriched every aspect of her life.

Smart was the first representative from Newfoundland and Labrador to grant wishes to terminally-ill children in Poland as a volunteer with the Coalition For Kids International Inc. Journeys for a Lifetime program.

The 22-year-old left from Halifax on Aug. 3 and was in Poland for the next 10 days. During that time, the volunteers granted wishes to children and toured the most beautiful architecture and landscapes Poland has to offer.

“One of the enjoyable aspects of this trip was it allowed its volunteers to have a break from the emotional roller-coaster,” Smart said. “When not granting wishes, we were able to tour the unknown landscapes of Poland and learn more about the culture and history.”

During off-time, they visited the Museum of the Second World War and the Warsaw Uprising, the Majdanek Second World War Concentration and Extermination Camp in Lublin, the Canadian Embassy, a remarkable castle in Lancut, and the old towns of Lublin and Warsaw.

As for the volunteer work, they spent the first day preparing the wishes, including wrapping the presents and loading them into the rented van.

The days that followed included a journey throughout the Southern area of Poland.

“We visited a resident of a cancer ward in Kielce as well as the homes of 14 youth,” Smart said. “During these visits, volunteers bonded with the youth over common interests, toys, games and of course, their wishes. The volunteers also bonded with the children during the construction of the wishes. Once the wishes were opened by the Polish youth or constructed by the volunteers, the next hours were spent playing with the newly acquired treasures and making lifelong friends.”

The wishes of the children included a trampoline, Barbie plane, LEGO helicopter and a playground.

Smart said the overall experience was life changing, adding she was able to leave her comfort zone and place herself in situations where she would not normally be found.

“I communicated with families who were not fluent in English but yet we managed to create hours of overwhelming joy and happiness,” Smart said. “It was a beautiful vision to see people from two completely different countries interacting without words but gestures.”

She said she personally does not believe an experience of this sort would be possible in any other environment or through any other organization.

“I have previous experience with international organizations and researched an unlimited number of organizations,” Smart said. “There is no one group that comes to mind that exposes Canadian youth to the life and tragedies faced by children much like themselves. Coalition for Kids International aims to present the similarities between the two groups of youth and help Canadian youth realize just how lucky they have life on this side of the world.”

Smart said even though many of the children shared the same illnesses, their life experiences set them apart from one another. Along the journey they met five-year-old Kinga, who spent a year and a half of her life in the hospital fighting against leukemia; Nikola, 3, who has already survived two bouts of chemotherapy treatments; and 13-year-old Patryk who has not only struggled against cystic fibrosis but years of mistreatment and beatings by his father.

“We were also honored to meet Rafal, an 18-year-old who has decided to put an end to his fight with bone cancer, and Michal, who at age 12, believes he will overcome muscular dystrophy and live his life as a professional wrestler,” Smart said.

“Every second of the trip created a new memory that I will carry with me for the remainder of my life. I will forever cherish every emotion, spark of excitement and the overwhelming sense of love and adornment that was experienced throughout every household of our journey.”

However, there is one memory of this journey that will lie near and dear to her for an eternity.

“One of the enjoyable aspects of this trip was it allowed its volunteers to have a break from the emotional roller-coaster. When not granting wishes, we were able to tour the unknown landscapes of Poland and learn more about the culture and history.” Cheyanne Smart

“That memory will be of a very special young man who I never had the opportunity to meet,” Smart said. “On day nine of our journey we were scheduled to meet Damian, a remarkable 17-year-old who was fighting against bone cancer. Sadly, two hours prior to our arrival, Damian passed peacefully away. That moment in time that lasted an eternity will continue to be the inspiration of my upcoming journey with Coalition for Kids International. Such an experience confirmed that I was exactly where I needed to be, fulfilling the role I was meant to hold.”

Smart said the Journey for Life program has enriched every aspect of her life.

“I not only gained such an experience but gained insight about myself,” Smart said. “This program allowed me to grow as an individual and understand pieces of me that I had not taken the opportunity to learn. I was able to see how my emotions and gestures adapted to each child’s situation and realized the strength I was unaware I possessed.”

She added such a learning experience outweighed any price that could have been associated with the journey.

Smart added not only did the wishes bring joy to the children receiving them, but to their entire families as well.

“It was these wishes that gave families hope; the hope for the future and the strength to face another day,” Smart said. “It also provided the families with a couple of hours where they could forget about the disease that has been shadowing their homes for years and rejoice in the beauty of giving. It was a sensational experience that has shaped my new outlook on life. I have been inspired by the little heroes I met in Poland and will hopefully shape the future for other youth in this province.”

Smart said she hopes her experience will allow others to be inspired by the joy that remains in Poland.

“I also hope such an inspiration will provide more Polish youth with the opportunity to receive their ultimate wishes and in one moment allow the happiness override the pain,” she said.

Along with attending Memorial University where she will be completing her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in psychology, as well as completing the prerequisites for the Master’s in counselling psychology, Smart has been recruited by Coalition for Kids International as the Newfoundland representative for the organization.

Her role within the organization is to promote the volunteer opportunities to youth aging from 14 to 23 who live in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said she will contact schools, organizations and various youth groups to spark interest in the work of the Coalition.

She is also hoping to present her experience and the opportunities available to junior high and high schools throughout the province and meet one-on-one with interested students, parents and teachers.  

In addition to promoting the Coalition for Kids International organization, she will work one-on-one with students for fundraising, organizing and planning purposes.

“I have made the assisting with fundraising a top priority as I had wished there was access to such help when I was fundraising for my journey to Africa,” Smart said, a journey that took place last summer.

“I hope this role will not only intrigue youth to partake in such a journey but partake in an overseas experience that has been fully fundraised.”

“Coalition for Kids International has an unbelievable opportunity available for teachers and leaders of youth organizations and groups.”

Anyone interested in partaking in such a journey or has any questions or concerns can contact Smart at cheyannesmart@hotmail.com or csmart@mun.ca. They can also check out the Coalition For Kids International Inc. website for further information: www.coalitionforkids.ca.

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Organizations: Coalition For Kids International Inc. Journeys, Warsaw Uprising, Canadian Embassy

Geographic location: Poland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Botwood Lublin Halifax Lancut Kielce Africa

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