Mercithon at Creek Park in Dubai on Feb 19, 2023
People from all walks of life joined the fundraiser Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It was a splendid show of solidarity, hope and resilience on Sunday as around 14,480 residents came together at the Creek Park in Dubai for a ‘Mercithon’ organised by St. Mary’s Church to help raise funds for the treatment of cancer patients.

With the slogan ‘fighting cancer one step at a time’, the ‘Walk for Hope’ also saw the organisers release 50 white doves, symbolising hope, love and faith. Fr. Lennie Connully, Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Church, inaugurated the day-long activities with a candlelight vigil, passing on the flame of hope for cancer patients to the other dignitaries present.

Volunteers and participants at the event Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

While the presence of the members of the Mounted Police from Dubai Police and officials from various government departments demonstrated the staunch support from the authorities for the cause, a special ramp walk by cancer patients and survivors soaked up the spirit of the event, demonstrating the power of resilience, courage, endurance and faith.

There were several booths offering games and prizes Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Around 20 cancer patients and survivors walked on the stage, some showing stylish moves and throwing away their hats that covered their shaved heads or short hair - signs of the rigorous treatment they have undergone.

Cancer patients and survivors during the ramp walk at the Mercithon in Dubai on Sunday
Cancer patients and survivors during the ramp walk at the Mercithon in Dubai on Sunday Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

Men, women and children, who were described as “champions of hope,” presented living examples of how they do not consider the disease as a road to death, but instead as a path of hope and resilience.

“Don’t treat cancer as a disease, treat it as a friend and overcome it with faith and courage,” said one cancer survivor.

While some vouched for the power of faith that helped them survive the long battles with cancer, others urged patients to have self-awareness and surround them with positive people and engage in activities that will help them tide over the challenges they face. Some of them also took the opportunity to express their gratitude to everyone who came out to show that cancer patients are not alone in their fight.

The patients and survivors also made a special formation of the letters of the phrase ‘Walk for Hope’, holding black umbrellas on which it was written.

Birthday girl

The youngest cancer patient present on the stage was Susanne Braganza, who received a surprise birthday celebration and a lot of attention and care as she revealed that her ninth birthday was on Saturday.

Staney D’Souza (right), a cancer survivor, speaks while Susanne Braganza, a cancer patient who turned nine on Saturday, and other patients and survivors, who took part in the ramp walk, listen during the Mercithon in Dubai on Sunday.
Staney D’Souza (right), a cancer survivor, speaks while Susanne Braganza, a cancer patient who turned nine on Saturday, and other patients and survivors, who took part in the ramp walk, listen during the Mercithon in Dubai on Sunday. Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

Speaking after the special ramp walk, Fr Connully said: “Hope is something that all of us need some time or the other in life. We all fall out of depression and despair, and we need hope to raise us up. Hope is that resilience that we all need in life.”

While generally people have a look of sadness when they mention about cancer, he said he was touched by seeing the “champions of courage”, who people think are condemned to death, making it to a catwalk.

“I could not control my tears. These people are so courageous. I must really thank you all very much for this great inspiration,” he said, to a loud round of applause from the audience including government officials and senior community members.

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Unity in diversity

“Dubai is not a place where we are isolated. We are all one and we get that feeling of happiness of unity, in spite of the diversity that we experience in this country. We thank everyone for the tremendous support they showed to our event,” Fr Connully added.

Susan Jose, one of the main coordinators of volunteers from the church, said: “They [the patients and survivors] are our VIPs. They are our stars for the day. So we want to make them feel special.”

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Susan Jose (left) and Desmond Carvalho Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Of the 11 patients who benefitted from the first edition of the Mercithon in 2017 that collected over Dh500,000, two patients are still undergoing treatment, she said.

Dh3.8 million target

This year, the church has received 53 appeals for help from cancer patients from different nationalities, including Pakistanis, Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians and Lebanese. The aim is to raise over Dh3.8 million for their treatment through the Mercithon.

Margaret Francis, Mercithon Committee member, said: “It has been an excellent show of solidarity from Dubai residents and authorities. The warmth and support from the residents is incredible. I hope the cancer patients will benefit greatly from the way the vibrant Dubai community has reached out.”

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Margaret Francis Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Officials from entities such as Dubai Police, Dubai Municipality, Dubai Sports Council, Dubai Health Authority, Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services, Roads and Transport Authority, Community Development Authority and the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities as well as various places of worship and diplomatic missions were present to lead the Mercithon in the morning.

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Dubai Mounted Police also took part Image Credit: Supplied

Thousands of participants stayed back to participate in various activities organised as part of the event, which provided an atmosphere of a carnival where families were treated to games and entertainment. Many participants also won prizes including air tickets, television, tablet, pearl jewellery and vouchers for entertainment shows and dinner at luxury hotels.

‘Everyone’s help needed’

Among hundreds of families who were present were Spanish-Argentinian couple Sara Shalchian and Joaquin Raya who came with their three-month-old first son, Caesar.

“One third of the people of our generation is going to have cancer. So it could be any of us. All these efforts [to support cancer patients] are necessary... Everyone’s help is needed,” said Shalchian.

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Sara Shalchian and Joaquin Raya with their son Caesar Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

She said they also had fun at the event. “We danced with our baby in a crowd for the first time. When my baby cried later, one woman came to help me with the baby. These people are not just helping cancer patients. They are people with good souls. Next time, more people need to come.”

Indian expat Jijoy Joseph came along with his wife, two children and niece to support the cause. “We are happy that we could be a part of the event to show that there is hope for cancer patients, there are people to support them. Our church has taken this great initiative of bringing together thousands from various countries for this cause. We need to be aware of cancer and also support those who are affected,” he said.

Jane Elizabeth Legi , Jijoy Joseph , Cynthia Risa Joseph, Joseph Jacob at Mercithon at Creek Park in Dubai on Feb 19, 2023
(from left) Jane Elizabeth Legi, Jijoy Joseph, Cynthia Risa Joseph, and Joseph Jacob Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Joanna Fernandes, vice president of the Parish Council, said: “Our Parish is one of the parishes with the most number of nationalities globally. People who represent almost all of them have come together today. Dubai itself resonates tolerance and living in harmony and peace with so many nationalities and the Walk for Hope, with so many nationalities, also resonates the same, by standing together and showing support to cancer patients.”

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Joanna Fernandes Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

The final amount of contribution to the event will be announced in the coming days, she added.