Wish for anything: Old lady asks to drive tram in Czech Radio’s Christmas charity

Five years ago, Czech Radio launched a nation-wide charity called Ježíškova vnoučata (Santa’s grandchildren) that truly reflects the spirit of Christmas. It aims to bring a smile to the faces of abandoned, elderly people who have no family and friends to cheer them up.

Marietta Prajslerová | Photo: Kateřina Perglová,  Czech Radio

People living alone or in old age homes are encouraged to make a wish, which members of the public can volunteer to grant. I spoke to Marietta Prajslerová, one of the project organizers at Czech Radio, about how the idea originated and how it works in the midst of a pandemic.

“In 2016 one of our colleagues, who was working for Czech Radio’s regional station Jihlava at the time, made a report in one of the local nursing homes for the elderly and she realized that many of the people there were very lonely and felt abandoned. She wanted to bring a little joy to their lives since some of them had no family or no contacts with their family. So she asked her colleagues and friends to visit them and bring them gifts. My colleague at Czech Radio Martin Ondráček heard about it and decided it would be a great Christmas project for Czech Radio.”

Photo:  Czech Radio

You give both material gifts and experiences –– what do elderly people usually ask for?

“I would rather call it giving enjoyment –or –joy, happiness. People make a wish and enter it into the system – they ask either for something material or to go somewhere or meet someone. These people rarely have the chance to go outside the nursing home, so a trip somewhere is a huge adventure.”

What kind of things do they ask for?

“I would say all kinds of things – big and small. They ask for chocolates, cosmetics, but also notebooks, tablets, radios –the range of wishes is enormous.”

Photo: Mária Pfeifferová,  Czech Radio

I heard that sometimes they make unusual requests. Can you name a few?

“Of course. Two or three years ago, one old lady asked to meet the Pope.

And was it granted?

“Yes, her wish was granted. She went to Rome and was taken to the Pope and he greeted her. This year we also had a wish that was funny and nice because there was an elderly lady who asked to drive a tram. And I heard recently that someone is fulfilling that wish too.”

Who are the people who actually make these wishes come true?

Photo: Blanka Mazalová,  Czech Radio

“We do not really know them, because our system is automated. This year we have 16,000 wishes which is a big number, so it has to work that way.”

So whoever has the means and finances to grant a wish can do so?

“That’s right. We have a web page where there is a list of wishes – big and small and people can pick the wish they would like to grant.”

And do we know who gets involved – is it individuals, schools, institutions?

Photo:  Czech Radio

“All of those. We do not get direct feedback from the donors as a rule, but we do get information from emails that people send us and also from social networks. So we know that schools get involved, companies, a huge amount of people from all walks of life.”

One of you goals is to restore inter-generational contacts –is this proving a success? Is this happening?

Photo: Tomáš Vodňanský,  Czech Radio

“Yes, it is. That was the main idea at the beginning. Just to bring people together. And this year workers from several old age homes contacted us to say that their clients have some wishes, but that the people who granted their wishes last year want to do so again –and they asked whether we want to enter these wishes into our data base. So we said of course not.”

So once these ties are forged, the people remain in touch?

Photo: David Václav Zajíček,  Czech Radio

“That’s right. New friendships are born and the people often keep in touch for years.”

This year’s charity effort is organized under the motto “No time to loose” -how has Covid impacted the charity ? What do people ask for now? And is it harder to grant the wishes?

“We see that there are more wishes for things like subscriptions for newspapers and magazines, tablets, notebooks, mobile phones – all things that will help people stay in touch with others and gain information. And the downside is that it is not possible to hand over the gift in person, because of the pandemic these homes do not allow visitors. So the loneliness factor is growing.”

What are some of the wishes that have touched you most deeply?

Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“I have to say that every single wish touched me deeply because I personally read every single wish. Many wishes relate to childhood. People ask to have something they had at home when they were children, that is very emotional. And also, one lady asked to visit her parent’s grave, that was very touching as well.  And some people ask to be able to visit the place where they spent their childhood – to see it one more time.”

So it is actually very easy to give someone a precious gift just by taking them on a trip.

Photo: Miroslav Hamřík,  Czech Radio

“That’s right. Just by taking them somewhere.”

For a radio station it would be natural to document such a charity effort –is that happening?

“Of course. Every year some of our announcers fulfill these Christmas wishes – they are Santa’s grandchildren. And now, for example, every day this week on our main news channel Radiožurnal we have a report about how a given wish was granted by one of our radio personalities.”

What do you consider to be the best thing about this project?

“The fact that it brings people together. Unfortunately, this year they cannot meet in person, so it is about gifts, letters and Christmas cards. But new friendships are born every year.”

Photo: Marcela Cisovská,  Czech Radio