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.

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 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.


ccarpinello said...

Thanks for sharing this story, Fiona. We tend to forget how fortunate we are.

Renee C. said...

Fiona, I love your passion for this cause and I am very touched by your post. We are indeed so fortunate in so many ways and to learn about how 1 in 3 of these incidents are intentional and so many children get burned from fires intended to provide warmth in their home is just heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing information about this charitable organization and I have tweeted about it to my followers.

Fiona Ingram said...

Thanks for the positive comments! I will be doing regular reading and writing skills with the kids, especially when the new school term starts in 2013. Sometimes it's not just about money, but heartfelt support.

Unknown said...

Fiona, I so appreciate you bringing this organization to my attention. I did not know about it until reading your post. This is such a heartbreaking topic to say the least, and I'm so glad the Children of Fire exists to help those affected. I will be checking out their website today.

Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes said...

Hi there! Stopping by from the Kid Lit Blog #6! I commend you for offering your services to these children! Thank you sharing such moving and touching story!

Jambo said...

Hi Fiona
I am not sure if my comment got swallowed up by blogger so please delete this if it posts twice.

Thank you for a wonderful post. This subject is incredibly dear to my heart. Before I became a mummy a few years ago I was the Clinical Nurse Consultant for a burns unit in Autralia. Our unit is first world as you mentioned so we are fully funded and well resourced, but we often took charitable cases of children from Thailand, Indonesia and Papua New Ginea who had no hope of every having a normal life without surgical reconstruction. Those children always touched my heart. I even gained alot of my inspiration for my book through my deep wish to be able to somehow heal these kids without all the intervention. So thanks again for brining these special kids to our attention. Your book sounds wonderful and I know the kids will just love having you continue to visit. Cheers Julie Anne Grasso

Fiona Ingram said...

Thank you for spreading the word. I will post updates once we start the Reading program next year.

Unknown said...

Fiona, this is heartbreaking. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Bless you for helping every way you can!

Barry Knister said...

You latest post listing prizes and contests represents a real contribution to Indie publishing. Thanks a lot!

Fiona Ingram said...

Thank you Jaymie and Barry. We can all contribute, even in the smallest way, to bringing joy/enlightenment/meaning into people's lives.