Jõulutunnel: Thirteen years of making Christmas wishes come true

In 1999 Estonian Public Broadcasting aired a charity programme Jõulutunnel, aiming to raise money for large families in need. The programme’s initial success led the way to a tradition which has lasted for 13 years. Every Christmas, thousands of Estonians are calling on Jõulutunnel’s phone lines to help those who need it the most. There are too many.

This year Jõulutunnel is collecting donations for the young people with intellectual disabilities. The programme has formed a partnership with Maarja Päikesekodu – an organisation founded a few years ago by concerned parents. Every donation would be a step towards building a living and working complex for 50-150 youngsters.

Jõulutunnel’s producer and host Margus Saar reasoned this year’s choice: “It was the parents’ concern about their disabled children that made us to choose Maarja Päikesekodu. They worried that once the children reach adulthood, they have the proper education provided by the State, but as parents get older, the opportunities to arrange home schooling, working and rehabilitation become increasingly difficult.”

In a way, Jõulutunnel is pointing to the hot spots in the society by giving a voice to those who often go unheard. This year’s project is a response to wider media discussion about the heavy role of family and society in taking care of disabled people.Saar said that the programme intends to initiate the change in how complicated social problems are being perceived and tackled, but the rest is up to the organisations and state aid.

Women’s shelter, blind people’s association, children’s hospital endowment fund. These are only a few partners who have received invaluable help from Jõulutunnel’s donations in previous years. To ensure that the money is spent for the right cause, the programme’s crew is keeping in touch with their partners. In fact, traditionally the first hour of the programme reports how last year’s donations have been used throughout the year.

It is a mixture of social responsibility and a true passion for journalism that has kept Saar leading the project for over a decade. “It enables me a journalistic approach about a particular social issue. I can present the problem to the audience and create a discussion. Also, the end of the year is the time to look back on the year passed. In saying that, I value creating something together, good music and the holiday spirit,” he added.

When asking Saar what lies beneath Jõulutunnel’s tradition, he replies: “The holidays are free from responsibilities and hurry. People look into themselves and spend time with their close ones, make conclusions, think about how their presence and the outcome of their actions influence others. Perhaps Jõulutunnel is of help in doing that.”

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