The headlines these days are abuzz with news about Libya, Somalia, and other disasters in Africa, but little attention is awarded to the aftermath of the disasters. For a fleeting moment, the media was enthralled with Muammar Gaddafi’s family nanny, who was twice brutally burned with boiling water by Gaddafi’s adult daughter after allegedly refusing to beat the young granddaughter. The public pitied this young, Ethiopian woman, whose life would forever be changed as her skin heals into a mess of scars and disfigurement, that will never be accepted in an aesthetics-driven society.
Among the list of problems in Africa that on reads about, burns victims are rarely given much attention. Victims of war often emerge with burns and disfigurement. Burns from exploding paraffin stoves and pressurized kerosene stoves are devastatingly common across all of Africa. Squatter camps filled with side-by-side, makeshift shacks are conducive to swift fires that can wipe out hundreds of homes in one night and leave children permanently scarred. While, these are the two most prominent causes of burns in Africa, many children’s lives are destroyed by negligent parents who leave candles burning or give matches to their curious child to play with.
n Johannesburg, South Africa, one charity is fighting to help burned children from all over Africa. Children of Fire, Africa’s first burns charity, was founded by director Bronwen Jones in 1996 after Jones came across Dorah, a severely burned baby whom doctors had given up on. Jones recognized the need for support for burn survivors across Africa and increases awareness of the issue. She also founded the Johannesburg School for the Blind, Low-Vision and Multiple Disability Children, or Beka, a school that provides specialized attention for the blind and a place for burned children to continue their education between surgeries.
Anyone working at Children of Fire must undertake many tasks. Caitlin, a student at Davidson College in North Carolina, has been the director of Beka’s curriculum, the speech therapist, sex education teacher, and behavioral specialist. Despite having a dozen scattered tasks, some of her most rewarding work has been one-on-one time with Bongani, 9, a burn survivor with behavioral issues. Before Caitlin came, few volunteers were willing to work one-on-one with the challenging little boy who was always the scapegoat for the children at the school. Bongani was burned at the age of 5, when his grandmother, attempting to alleviate the symptoms of flu by holding him over a steaming pot of water, dropped his face into the water, resulting in severe burns on his face and his neck. Because he swallowed a bit of the boiling water, he still suffers from post-nasal drip and stomach problems. Beka offered Bongani a haven from teasing and a place where he was an equal among other burned and blind children. Caitlin and Bongani started taking the charity’s dog for a walk together once a week. He has a passion for animals and is completely at ease around them. Walking the dog became an incentive for Bongani to behave better in class, and the teachers began to see improvements in his behavior.
From law students, to pre-med to lost souls, Children of Fire is the place to prepare yourself for the real world, or even to find yourself.
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