Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading with the Children of Fire

Meeting some of the Children of Fire was a most surprising experience. With my beloved mom passing away recently, and my adopted daughter graduated from high school and in college, I now have a few extra hours on my hands each week. You might think, “Oh, write, write more!” But there’s a limit to what one can squeeze out of an already-squeezed brain when it comes to creativity.


The American tradition of Thanksgiving also made me start thinking about what I have and giving thanks for it. After all, I have so much to be grateful for. My wonderful mother left me comfortably established, and her help enabled me to give up the rat race and just stay at home and write all day. There are so many needy organisations, run by wonderful selfless people, that I didn’t have to think very hard about where to devote some of this extra time.

I met Bronwen Jones (the founder of Children of Fire) briefly about ten years ago, with her badly burned daughter, Dorah. At the time, I was struck by Dorah’s happiness and self-assurance, despite her terrible burns. Bronwen gave me her card, which I kept, and the encounter stayed in the back of my mind somewhere.

What is Children of Fire?

Children of Fire is a charity based in the UK and in South Africa, which assists badly burned children with reconstructive surgery and other necessities. The organization also promotes legislation and legal assistance for children who are disabled through burn injuries.

In 1997, the organization began as a charitable trust to assist Dorah Mokoena, a badly burned South African child who was turned away from several hospitals. After The Times of London published an appeal, the Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust was formed in London to accept donations, and the Children of Fire in South Africa to handle Dorah and other children's rehabilitation. This evolved into one name Children of Fire active mostly in Southern Africa, but with legal entities existing or in progress in the USA, North Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, and the UK, which all assist other children injured by fire. Since first helping Dorah 17 years ago, ChiFi has helped 350 children with severe burns as well as others from across Africa who required less complicated surgery.


Children of Fire keep smiling!
I went along on Saturday afternoon to offer my services in the reading/writing/acting/having fun with books department, and to meet some of the kids. It was great. A mixture of ages, and varying degrees of disabilities, but a wonderful sense of fun and excitement. They all have remarkable self-confidence, laugh, talk, and jostle for attention, and I can only put this down to Bronwen’s love, compassion, and ability to make each child feel special. They had just been to a function that involved lots of popcorn, party hats, and a piñata that gave out sweets, so all the kids were in high spirits.

I took my book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, as well as a large full-colour (fabulous) book on Egypt, some posters, bookmarks, and we went for a brief little holiday to Egypt. Reading aloud to kids who want to listen, and experience some of the wonder of imagination and fantasy is very rewarding and fulfilling. Because of their injuries, some kids do not get enough schooling—much time is spent in hospital, with ongoing procedures interrupting the learning process. ChiFi has a sister charity the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disability Children (known as Beka), a school with a staff of three teachers to ensure the children have access to education while undergoing treatment. Other kids have coped wonderfully and are about to embark on high school, some are in university, and some are employed.

Seiso's torture burns are hidden by clothes
Burn injuries are a terrible and harrowing experience for children. More than 90 percent of burn injuries occur in developing countries and 70 percent of these are in children, according to statistics compiled by the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in the United Kingdom and the Dow University Medical College Burns Centre, Pakistan. Accurate paediatric burn statistics in Africa are hard to find.

At least 15,000 children in South Africa are burnt every year, according to ChiFi estimates. The figures are higher in winter when the chances of children rolling half asleep into open fires lit to warm their rooms are higher. Sadly, one in three severe child burns are intentional in South Africa.

In the five biggest cities in South Africa an average of 200 people die in shack fires every year, according to Abahlali baseMjondolo, a South African shack dwellers' movement.


Little Perlucia rebuilding  life
Apart from the actual burn injuries, many children come to the charity with extra problems such as starvation, malnutrition, HIV/Aids, as well as poverty-related illnesses. Added to the trauma of the burn experience is fear of the reconstructive and healing process with children being terrified at the sight of medical doctors in white coats, the fear of pain, and ultimately having to learn to live again.

Funding
ChiFi works with a network of doctors, surgeons and health care specialists, many of whom volunteer their services. The charity has never received any government aid and operates entirely on public donations, using volunteers from across the world. Reconstructive surgery is incredibly expensive, and funding is always welcome.

Education
Education is the number one priority. Besides helping children with burn injuries, ChiFi also tries to educate communities on how to prevent fires. The charity also helps communities affected by fires rebuild their lives with construction materials and other household essentials. However, the biggest challenge is educating people to see these Children of Fire not as victims but as tough survivors. These children have ongoing lives to lead, goals to achieve, and the ability to give and receive love.

How You Can Help!
Visit the website and see how you can help. Your few dollars and pounds translate into a nice big amount, given the exchange rate for foreign currency. If you live in South Africa, visit the site and ask to be emailed the latest wish list. They need so much that we take for granted. Charity begins at home, and if we all help, in whatever small way we can, ChiFi can expand its operations to take in many more needy children and set them back on their life path.

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