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October 01, 2010

Human Rights Hero: Erik's Harvest

by James Radina

As a volunteer Wish Granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego, I’ve learned that wishes ordinarily fall into one of four categories: “I wish to go…,” “I wish to meet…,” “I wish to have…,” or “I wish to be…” But fifteen-year-old Erik was no ordinary young man.

When my wish-granting partner and I arrived at Erik’s home, we were shocked to find very poor living conditions. There was no parent or guardian to be found and it looked as if there hadn’t been one around in a while. Erik insisted that we come in and sit with him. We could see in his eyes that he was bursting to share his wish idea with us.

He sat up in his wheelchair and beamed. “You know those children in Africa that don’t have access to food and have to walk a long distance for fresh water?” he asked. “Is there a way I can help them? Can my wish be to send water and food to help all these kids?”

Needless to say, we were speechless. The San Diego chapter of Make-A-Wish had never granted an “I wish to give...” wish before. Here was a young man with nothing, with no role models or support at home, and because of an infomercial he saw on TV, he wanted to change the world.

Erik’s wish to provide unconditional support to kids in Africa didn’t stop there, as he asked about other countries too. Erik wanted nothing for himself; he didn’t ask to fly to Africa for fun and, even though he loves video games and spends much of his time at home, he didn’t ask for a new computer or a dream-bedroom makeover. He knew he could have had any of these wishes if he’d asked. But every time we spoke from that point forward, all he wanted to know was how many kids he was going to help.

We were excited to see where this idea would lead, so we went to work. First stop was Project Concern International (PCI), a San Diego – based health and humanitarian organization whose worldwide programs are dedicated to preventing disease, improving community health, and promoting sustainable development. Through this partnership, Erik’s Harvest was born—a program that provides education and support to children through community gardens and fish ponds in Zambia, Ethiopia, and Malawi. Erik’s Harvest is about kids helping kids though sustainability and education.

Today Erik is with a new family that provides the love and support he needs at home. And on November 7, 2009, Erik’s wish came to its exciting culmination. He was a guest of honor at PCI’s “Hands Across Borders” event and presented a check to the CEO in honor of Erik’s Harvest. He shared his story and inspired about 650 supporters at PCI’s largest fund-raising event.

I strongly believe that this is just the first step for Erik; he is creating a movement. From day one, he wanted to help all the kids in Africa, and throughout his wish experience he wanted to make sure Erik’s Harvest would continue to help kids long after his wish had been granted.

James Radina

James Radina is a volunteer at Make-A-Wish San Diego.

Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. Since its inception in 1983, the San Diego chapter of Make-A-Wish has granted 2,500 wishes to children in San Diego and Imperial counties. Donations in honor of Erik should be sent to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego or Project Concern International.