Two teens, living on opposite sides of the world, were given the opportunity to meet after five years of correspondence— and it was all captured on film thanks to a Kelowna videographer.
Curtis Allen was invited to join 18-year-old Isabel Schuppli and her family as they embarked on a journey to Ethiopia to meet a their sponsor child, Kidist Meskele.
The whirlwind, three-day adventure was made possible thanks to Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.
Isabel, who lives in Edmonton, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 when doctors found a lump on her thyroid.
“It was just the summer before Grade 11 —that was when we found out I had cancer,” explained Schuppli. “After that we kinda went through processes to get rid of it, obviously. So we had a surgery and I don’t have a thyroid anymore, and then I went through radioactive iodine treatment.”
Upon hearing of Isabel’s illness, the Wish Foundation determined her eligibility and approached her to share her ideas for a heartfelt wish.
Without missing a beat Isabel decided she wanted to visit her sponsor ‘sister’ in Ethiopia.
Kidist is the same age as Isabel and the Schuppli family considers her to be an honourary member of their family. Over the years, they have sent letters, photos and birthday gifts to Kidist.
“They let her know, so then her family can all get together and we get to see all of them; so it should be really cool to be able to meet them all. She has a whole bunch of siblings…should be a big family,” said Isabel.
As plans were put in motion, Kelowna videographer Allen got involved and planned to join the family on the trip of a lifetime.
“For me it was incredible to watch the Schuppli family meet Kidist for the first time. Isabel and Kidist saw each other, shook hands and eventually became inseparable for two days,” said Allen. “It was like they knew each other forever, like they were best friends, even with the language barrier they were able to enjoy each other’s company.”
A translator assisted the Schuppli family during their time in Ethiopia to help make introductions easier.
Allen said that despite being from opposite sides of the world the two girls had a lot in common and had a special bond.
“They had two days together, where the first day they went to the Compassion project, where Kidist has been going for school and health care. So the family toured this Compassion centre and church to see what the kids do there on a weekly basis,” said Allen.
The Compassion project is the organization through which the Schuppli family sponsored Kidist.
“They went out for lunch and gave Kidist gifts, for her, her family and kids at her school,” said Allen. “On day two, they went out and looked for hippopotamuses, so that was a cool experience. We got really close to these magnificent beasts.
“Then they took Kidist mini-golfing and for us this would be no big deal but Kidist has never played mini-golf, she didn’t know how to play mini-golf. So many laughs.”
Although well-travelled, Isabel and her family were surprised by the poverty they saw on the trip.
“There’s a lot of children that are kind of just hanging around. You don’t see a lot of the adults. I’m not sure where they are, maybe working, or maybe inside,” said Isabel. “But there’s a lot of children that are walking the goats or just hanging around, which was the most surprising thing for me. I didn’t expect to see all those children just kind of hanging out.”
Isabel said she was blessed by the whole experience because not many families get to meet their sponsor child.
“We couldn’t really communicate as seamlessly as you would be able to from someone who spoke your language, so it was difficult,” said Isabel. “ It was amazing to just be there and to kinda get to know her in other ways besides just talking. Just hanging out with her and (learning) her mannerisms and kind of understanding what she’s like was kind of interesting.”
Speaking through a translator Kidist said she was also overwhelmed and very grateful to have the experience.
“I feel like I know them well, feel closer to them and I feel I’m grateful to them and I’m free to spend time with them, play with them and to hang out with them. It’s better than yesterday.”
Several months cancer-free Isabel is thankful to Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada for making her wish come true. She also plans on staying in touch with Kidist into the future.