Marissa Callaghan boarded the ferry to Scotland with fellow fundraisers to support the rising costs of taking 100 deserving children to visit Santa in Rovaniemi this December
The captain of the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Team, Marissa Callaghan, proved she was a star on and off the pitch as she joined over 150 fundraisers onboard Stena Line this week in a ‘Walk to Scotland’ charity drive to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust (NICLT).
The famous midfielder and fellow walkers raised almost £10,000 for NICLT which will take 100 Northern Ireland Children living with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions to Rovaniemi this December — its first trip there in three years due to Covid restrictions.
The Children to Lapland trip is a much-loved experience that sees healthcare professionals here nominate 100 children from across the province to visit the magical location of Rovaniemi where Santa resides in a cavernous and truly magical winter wonderland, under the Arctic Circle.
The mystical spot, 800 kilometres north of Helsinki, sees the children meet with Santa and his huskies, bake with Mrs Claus, take a magical train ride and even qualify from Elf school.
The trip is planned with painstaking detail to ensure the right medical staff and equipment are onboard the three-hour flight guaranteeing all travellers’ complete safety and comfort.
This year the usual cost of the trip — approximately £750 per child — has increased substantially to accommodate the cost of living crisis and surging fuel costs.
It means the NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust has to ramp up its fundraising efforts, which is why it brought back its ‘Walk to Scotland’ fundraising drive which took place on Sunday, November 20.
The campaign saw participants board the Stena Superfast Ship at Belfast, bound for Scotland. During that journey, they walked a mapped-out track helping raise funds as they put in the steps.
Marissa, her wife Paula and son Quinn were part of the squad to walk the mapped circuit onboard the 2.5 hour journey.
She said: “We had a brilliant day on the Stena Line. I think the Walk To Scotland is such a fun day out for all the family to enjoy and a great way to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust.”
Marissa became ambassador for the charity during lockdown when attempts to fundraise were severely restricted.
Fourteen-year-old Oliver Dickey from Coleraine, who lives with a type of cerebral palsy that impacts his mobility, also undertook the Walk to Scotland for the third time. He also completed the challenge in 2017, 2018 and 2019, raising thousands of pounds.
Back in 2019, Oliver and his good friend Ethan Pollock undertook the challenge in a bid to raise £1000 for the charity but instead exceeded that figure raking in over £10,000.
Oliver Dickey, who has also been on the Lapland trip, said: “I’m very glad the Lapland trip is back this year because it is such a brilliant experience and I will never forget my time there. I know to get all 100 children to Lapland, and their families and all the equipment costs a lot of money and even more this year. This is why I want to do the Walk to Scotland again, to make sure dreams can come true for many other children.”
NICLT’s President, Gerry Kelly, said: “We are so grateful to Marissa, Oliver and the other much-valued walkers who joined our first Walk to Scotland since the pandemic. It is these people who make our trip to Lapland a reality. Without them and their generosity, we wouldn’t be able to do this.
“They are heroes to us and we congratulate them on all their efforts.”
Chairman of NICLT, Colin Barkley, added: “On one day a year we fill an aeroplane with children with particular needs, their families, healthcare professionals and a host of equipment. The aircraft is effectively a flying hospital while the authorities in Lapland are aware of the nature of our flight and an ambulance and the local hospital are on standby.
“It is this setup that is meticulously planned that allows many of these children to fly for the first time ever, due in part to prohibitive insurance and the nature of their condition.
“It’s no easy feat but one that delivers so much joy and creates life-long memories for all involved, and we are so happy to bring it back after a two-year break.
“Because we are self-funded, it’s important to us to thank our supporters, corporate sponsors and the individuals who go out of their way to help make this wonderful trip of a lifetime a reality. Those onboard Stena on Sunday have made more dreams come true this year. Thank you.”
Dr Mark Rollins, a charity Trustee and a Senior Consultant Paediatrician, explains: “NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust is a unique charity which allows health and community care workers, based in all the paediatric departments and hospitals in Northern Ireland, to nominate the sick children they feel most deserve such an amazing treat.
“The health teams are all aware of the significant burden on carers and families who look after their child’s condition and needs on a daily basis. Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals give up their own time to volunteer to ensure that these children can experience a magical time in a safe environment whilst not forgetting the boost the trip gives to their self-confidence and mental well-being.
“Of all the charities I have ever been involved with, NICLT is definitely extra special.”
Over the years more than 1000 children and their families have enjoyed NICLT’s trip to Lapland, with memories lasting long beyond the day itself.
Parent, Grainne McQuade said: “To see the happiness on my son’s face was something I will never forget.”
Another parent added: “This trip was an extraordinary experience for our family, especially at a time of grief. Invaluable memories were made.”
Emma, 10, said: “It was the best day of my life.” And little Teddy, 8, added: “I loved it and didn’t want to go home. My dreams came true.”