It was a day to remember for 100 children from Northern Ireland who are living with life threatening and life-limiting conditions as they travelled to Lapland from Belfast to meet Santa in his winter white wonderland.
The children and a huge support team made up of Trust medica, nurses and carers, as well as parents, checked in at Belfast International Airport from 5am and were welcomed by The Choir Studio from Newry, who filled the air with festive music, initiating the magic of what was a fun-packed day.
After a three hour TUI Airways flight to Northern Finland the children disembarked and made their way to the magical location of Rovaniemi, under the artic circle.
Upon arrival the all-inclusive day trip began and saw the children enjoy what is the quintessential fantasy experience at Christmas time including reindeer rides, husky dog rides, sledging, a visit to the elves workshop as well as Mrs Claus’ gingerbread bakery factory among many other activities.
The pinnacle moment for all children was a private meet and greet with Santa Claus himself after which the children continued their festive cheer theme 35,000 feet up on board their homeward bound flight.
Emma Teague, 9, from Newry, described it as “the best day in my whole life”.
Emma’s mum Clare added: “Thank you so much for having us on the trip yesterday, we all had a fantastic day. Thanks for everything you did for the children, it means so much. Memories we’ll treasure forever!”
Daithi Finnegan (6) said: “I am so lucky to have got to see Santa and his reindeers in his home. We had the best time ever.”
Speaking about the day, Emma O’Neill, mother to Cavan, aged nine: “The trip to Lapland was beyond our expectations. My son said it was better than he could ever have imagined. I’m not sure this is something you can describe in any word other than magical.
“From the anticipation onboard the very festive flight to the screams and cheers of the children when we landed in a very snowy Finland right through to meeting the real Santa was an experience I would like to box. Thank you Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust. You made dreams come true and gave us joyous everlasting memories. It felt like a dream.”
Another parent added: “Thank you all very much for creating such a wonderful day. I know there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes. My daughter and I had a wonderful time!”
This year marked NI Children to Lapland Trust eleventh trip to Lapland.
Colin Barkley, Chair of NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust said: “We would like to thank Tui, Belfast International Airport and the ground staff from Swissport. Not only do they dress up in Christmas costumes they also open all of the check in desks at 5am to ensure the children have a quick and smooth check in. In addition, the airport’s security team always ensures a speedy transition despite the significant levels of medication and medical equipment that is required for this flight, which is essentially a flying hospital!
“It would be remiss of us not to also mention the ground handlers at Rovaniemi airport, the fantastic team at Wild Nordic who co-ordinated the magical outdoor adventures, and the amazing team of elves at Santa Park, who play a critical role in this trip. They have all been working with us since the charity was established over 12 years ago and are responsible for the land arrangements which are tailor made to suit the complex needs of the children. Everything is bespoke and exclusive to our group to avoid unnecessary delays. All of these aspects make the trip unforgettable and we appreciate everyone’s contribution.
“There is no better Christmas gift to give and on behalf of the children we would like to say a huge heartfelt thank-you to all involved!”
Every child on the trip is nominated by a Northern Ireland health care professional many of whom will travel on the flight and escort children and their families around the resort.
While in Rovaniemi an ambulance in the resort and the hospital in the area are made aware of the NI Children to Lapland Trust trip and the nature of the flight.
NICLT’s President, Gerry Kelly, added: “We are delighted to be able to resume our trip to Lapland this Christmas and create memories with some of the most deserving children here and their families.
“The Northern Ireland Children to Lapland Trust relies solely on donations and fundraising drives and we are so grateful to our donors, supporters and corporate partners who have empathised greatly and reflected those higher costs pressures on us through their contributions.
“Without them our trip to Lapland this year would not be happening.”
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.”
Charlotte Brenner, Marketing Manager at TUI Ireland says: “TUI are delighted to be able to support the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust by providing this very special flight to Lapland for all the wonderful children and their carers. It is fantastic to welcome the return of this magical experience for everyone involved and we’re thrilled we can play our part.”
Jean Foster from BIA Swissport, adds: “We were delighted to see everyone from the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland Trust back this year.”
Kathy McCaughey from The Choir Studio, Newry, says: “It is an absolute honour and privilege to sing for this amazing charity and wonderful children. We hope we sprinkled a little magic and song as they set off to Lapland.”
For further information on NI Children to Lapland and Days To Remember Trust please visit https://nichildrentolapland.com/