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ISSUE NO. 01 DECEMBER 2021Children of FireWritten by: Keagan Mattison The disfigurement of children from shack fires is of grave concern in South Africa, making organisations such as Children of Fire crucial.With its sister organisation Children of Fire International, the organisation was founded and established in 1996 at the initiative of Bronwen Jones, a British engineering Geologist and Author.
Children of Fire’s frequent work in specific impoverished communities and the socio-economic challenges of South Africa contribute greatly to the high incidents of burns among children and led the organisation to further investigate the root causes of fires in severely overcrowded townships. The result was Umashesha (a Zulu word meaning to be quick, or one that is quick), a program aimed to educate people about avoidable danger and get them to look after themselves and their children, and their community. It also involves training in first aid and in fire fighting and prevention.
The program also trains individuals who go on to become public educators and safety workers in their local communities. In addition Children of Fire has made inroads in establishing lasting relationships with different informal settlements, allowing the charity to link these often marginalised communities with government departments as well as actively promoting tolerance of physical disfigurement through media campaigns and educational talks. According to statistics by Childsafe, an organisation helping parents understand child injuries and take preventative measures, injury is the leading cause of death and disability among South African children. The leading external causes of fatal injuries to children are firearm injuries, burns, motor vehicle accidents and drowning. While more than 70% of childhood injuries occur in and around children’s homes, the statistics also show that more than 80% of childhood injuries can be prevented. The reality is that burns are more common than most people believe and the lack of expert burn care is even more alarming. In the meantime Children of Fire continues to fly children to South Africa from Liberia, Chad, Zimbabwe, DRC and Gabon. They stay as long as needed, sometimes undergoing multiple operations, receiving occupational and physio-therapy, post-trauma counselling, going to school and exploring South Africa before returning home. Some children have even been taken overseas when the treatment they needed was not available in South Africa.
In an effort to address self-esteem issues that many burn survivors face, the charity also takes teen burn survivors on hiking trips to the Drakensberg and the Magaliesberg mountains in South Africa and have visited Mt Kilimanjaro and the peak of Mt Cameroon.
The adventures allow the teenagers to know that they can do anything that they set their minds to and create lifelong friendships between international burns survivors. Rien ne Dit, a Child of Fire rescued from Kinshasa at age 5 monthsBurns are not decreasing in Africa, nor further afield, so devising new solutions, is important.The biggest obstacle that these children face is ultimately not the disability that may be linked to their injuries or the disfigurement from uneven or distorted features, but it is the reaction that they experience from us, the public. Do not pity them, do not shun them, do not stare. They are human too.