Teen cancer survivor has selfless wish granted with help from Milford-based organization

Danielle Burns, 17, survived cancer used her wish with Make-A-Wish Connecticut to bring water to a village in Uganda and attend the ribbon cutting.

Danielle Burns, 17, survived cancer used her wish with Make-A-Wish Connecticut to bring water to a village in Uganda and attend the ribbon cutting.

A 17-year-old cancer survivor granted a wish from Make-A-Wish Connecticut considered asking for a cruise, a backstage meeting with Taylor Swift or maybe even a chance to lunch with Michele Obama, but instead she chose to raise money toward bringing clean water to two schools and an orphanage in Africa.

“I thought, ‘How can I go on a cruise and sail on water for 10 days when people don’t have water to drink?” said Danielle Burns of Tolland, a student at East Catholic High School in Manchester. “I thought, ‘While I have the resources, why not make a difference now?’”

Danielle was diagnosed at 16 with stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy. She is in remission and expected to make a full recovery.

In response to Burns’ request, Make-a-Wish Connecticut reached out to and partnered with Milford-based Uganda Farmers Inc. The nonprofit works to provide water for Uganda, a drought-ravaged East African nation where famine threatens more than 1.6 million people, according to lawyer Jane Holler, president of Uganda Farmers Inc. The nonprofit has been traveling to Africa for 11 years and has built seven clean water wells there.

The wish granters had never heard of leveraging a wish in this way but made it happen, Holler said.

Make-A-Wish cannot directly support another nonprofit, but through its network found Holler and her husband, Dan Marecki, first vice president of the organization. The wish granters helped create a website for Burns .

Aside from helping with the website, Make-A-Wish Connecticut will send Burns to Uganda in 2019 to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the well. Burns said she is “very excited” to meet the children who will benefit from the well.

Burns so far has raised more than $6,300, mostly through the website with exposure through Facebook.

“I’m overwhelmed — I come to tears every time I think about it,” Holler said.

The project will bring clean water to 2,500 elementary and high school students and an orphanage, Holler said, and includes a well with solar pumps.

Burns was scheduled to be a guest of honor Saturday at Uganda Farmers Inc. 5k race/walk fundraiser at Walnut Beach. To participate in the race or donate, contact Holler at 203-376-3283 or janeh@hollerandholler.com.

Burns mother, Erin Burns, said the two had fun discussions during long chemotherapy sessions, considering the Make-a-Wish possibilities.

“A cruise? The chance to meet Michele Obama? Go on the Ellen show? Backstage with Taylor Swift?” Erin Burns said. “But I’ll never forget the night Danielle came to me and said it seemed a little crazy to spend a week floating on the Mediterranean while there are literally thousands of kids in Africa who don’t even have clean water in which to bathe, cook with, or drink.”

Holler said Burns met a few months ago with the Rev. Godfrey Musabe, now of Boston, a graduate of one of those schools in Uganda.

“This is very personal for me, as I used to walk for miles to fetch dirty water from a stream every day when I was at that school,” Musabe told Burns.

Danielle said when she is an adult she wants to work for Sunshine Kids, which she said helps kids with cancer “get their life back.” She took a skiing trip to Colorado once as part of the program.

To learn more, visit www.mywishforwater.com.