“We put down a chair and a hospital bed at the Galateca Gallery and vowed that we would not get up from the chair until we collected 100,000 text messages at 2 Euros each.”
In only 23 days, the campaign Together for MagicHOME, initiated by Melania Medeleanu and Vlad Voiculescu, reached its target. More than 100,000 people contributed to building a home where families of child cancer patients will be able to live free of charge during the treatment process. Based on the success of the initial MagicHOME campaign, another €1,800,000 has been raised and construction of the building is almost complete.
“We have been helping families of children with cancer since 2007. This was the first time we tried crowdfunding. It was amazing to see how much people want to help and be a part of things that are bigger than themselves,” says Vlad Voiculescu.
The 2018 campaign Together for MagicHOME demonstrated that the solidarity of thousands of people is an extremely effective force for change.
PressOne sat down to talk to Melania Medeleanu and Vlad Voiculescu about their passion for cancer care in Romania.
So how did your passion for cancer care get started?
Vlad Voiculescu: It began in 2007 when a 28-year-old friend of mine was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma 3 weeks after her wedding. Even though this cancer could be effectively cured with an inexpensive chemotherapy (ABVD), the local hospitals did not have this medicine. I did some research and discovered that the World Health Organization has a list of essential, inexpensive cancer medicines. Sadly, the Romanian State health system does not have many of these essential medicines.
I went to a pharmacy in Vienna where I was working to buy three of the chemicals in ABVD. The Bleomycin cost €25, the Vinblastine cost €12 and the Dacarbazine cost €7. The drugs that would save my friend’s life cost less than €50 a treatment. I purchased enough medicines for her treatment, packed them in a backpack and brought them to her in Romania.
In a few years, we had a network of more than 400 Romanians filling up their backpacks with inexpensive cancer medicines and bringing them home to help cancer patients. Since we started, we have distributed these medicines to over 2,500 cancer patients.
The most painful part of this work was seeing children with cancer. In 2010, I saw the film about “The Hole in Wall Gang Camp” started by Paul Newman. I cried like crazy as I saw kids with cancer smiling and having fun. So I used my savings to start buying land in the village I grew up in with the dream of creating a similar summer camp in Romania. I managed to buy the land on the hill where I had so much fun playing as a child.
In 2014, Melania and I started our first camp on this land. We provided medicine and lots of fun for 31 kids. We called it MagiCAMP. MagiCAMP has doubled in size every year. After the Colectiv fire in 2015, we started ConnectivCAMP for child burn victims in 2016. In 2017, we added a BlueCAMP for children whose siblings have died of cancer. In the summer of 2018, we had a total of 272 children at our camps.
At the end of last year, PressOne made 10 nominations for Person of the Year IN 2017 and you two got the most votes. How did you react to receiving this title?
Melania Medeleanu: With a mixture of surprise and joy. I felt extremely honored because I looked at the other nominees that were chosen and any of them easily deserved this title.
If I consider Tibi Uşeriu, Carmen Uscatu or Oana Gheorghiu, or the other nominees, I would say that we are doing much less than what they are doing.
Do you feel that people have certain expectations from you?
Melania Medeleanu: Yes (they both laugh). With every day that passes, I get the feeling that when people gain confidence in you, they also begin to demand more and more of you. This is a natural process. What we really desire, beyond meeting their expectations, is to have them join us.
Vlad Voiculescu: To join us, or any of the other nominees. There are many people who are doing a lot of good in our country. If everyone contributes a little, it can make a world of difference. We just need a little bit more trust in one another.
What did launching the MagicHOME program mean to you?
Melania Medeleanu: First of all, it gave us the confirmation that there was a great need for such a project.
Vlad Voiculescu: For me, it’s an old cause of frustration (both laugh). It is easy to incubate ideas, but they linger for years because we are afraid to try things that have never been done.
Melania Medeleanu: It also meant a lot that so many wonderful people and organizations like JazzCommunication, Rogalski Damaschin, and the Galateca Gallery, worked together to develop the approach.
Tell us about the crowdfunding campaign
Melania Medeleanu: The idea was very simple. We put an empty chair beside an empty hospital bed belonging to a sick child and said that chair would be occupied until we had raised 200,000 Euros. We had no idea how long we would be sitting in the chair!
There were many people who thought we were complete fools. They asked us “Where are you going to find people who are willing to sit in that chair?”
Maybe the success of this campaign came from the fact that people understood that 2 Euros per month is not a lot. The excuse of not having enough money quickly faded away. It also only took just 30 seconds to send a text message with the word MAGIC to 8844, so the barriers to giving were removed.
“Some wrote prayers, others shared their stories.”
Vlad Voiculescu: The people who came and sat in the chair were absolutely extraordinary. Everybody had a story and everyone wrote in the little notebook that was placed beside the bed.
Many things just happened organically, without us having thought of them. The notebook, the teddy bears that gathered there on the bed. Some brought icons, others wrote prayers and others shared their own stories.
The stories were heart wrenching. We collected some of them to publish in the future but in the meanwhile, each person posted something on the campaign’s Facebook account and left a piece of their story there.
What left a lasting impression on you during the 23 campaign days in the chair?
Vlad Voiculescu: For me, it was the stories of those who came and sat in the chair. That’s for sure.
Melania Medeleanu: And all the objects the volunteers left there. At first, they left a book here and there in case someone wanted to read. Then they began leaving icons and teddy bears.
At the end of the campaign, we needed many boxes to gather up all the objects that had been left on the bed. There was no space left in the room. It was a room full of love.
Vlad Voiculescu: We’re going to build a storage shed beside MagicHOME where we can leave things for MagicBOX, a program which collects parcels of goods for poor children.
So tell us about MagicHOME
Vlad Voiculescu: It will be a home for families to live for as long as their children are in Bucharest for cancer treatment. Any family that has a child diagnosed with cancer and is coming for treatment in Bucharest can call us. We will help with transportation and accommodations and can provide absolutely everything they need.
We also have a meeting room in the house where parents and children can arrange sessions with psychologists or simply hang around and talk to one another.
After the success of our first crowdfunding campaign, we raised another €1,800,000 and MagicHOME is almost complete.
In another interview, you mentioned that your biggest donor is an institution in Switzerland. What do your plans look like for the upcoming years?
Vlad Voiculescu: In Switzerland, if a person becomes rich and wants to leave their fortune behind, they do not leave a car or a family house, but rather a sum of money. They leave the money with this type of institution called a Stiftung. A Stiftung is a foundation with a set of guidelines established by the donor about how the money must be spent after they die. Each donor defines these rules according to their own values so that their family members can thrive and become better people.
We were contacted by a 60-year old Swiss woman whose grandmother was originally from Romania and left an impressive fortune in her Stiftung. Her grandmother’s stipulation was that this fortune would be used to support two projects in Romania. MagicCAMP is one of the two projects chosen in Romania.
They told us from the beginning that they are not interested in making a one-time donation. They are interested in partially funding a sustainable project that has other sources of funding. They want to ensure that the project will be able to last for countless years.
This is why our crowdfunding is so important. Donors want to support the things that Romanians are supporting and believe in.
How has this work changed you?
Melania Medeleanu: You redefine the meaning of a problem.
Vlad Voiculescu: What happens to all the volunteers that sit in the chair for MagicHOME or come to MagicCAMP, even if it’s only for a few days, is that it turns their world upside down.
After that, our priorities change and our fears slowly disappear. You realize that the problems we face are mostly related to trivial matters. It requires a little reset to put things in perspective and become grateful for what we have.