20th Aug 2017 11:01:18 PM

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Benoni
As some of our children grow into young adults, some are shy about sharing their stories on the website. But after Children of Fire has helped them for prolonged periods of time, funded with the kind donations of the general public, we know that the only way that we can reduce injuries, together, is to make the public aware of both the causes and of the solutions. For now, the names in the story below have been adjusted, but all the facts are true.

Benoni and his sister fell asleep in front of the television on Friday evening, 20 July 2001. Their parents covered them with blankets on the couch and went to bed. In the early hours of 21 July 2001, an electrical short in a plug in the TV room, started the fire, razing the house to the ground.

Werner, the diabetic father, managed to get the family out of the house, but his daughter died after ten days in the intensive care unit. The family claims that they were charged double the cost for the helicopter for both children. Benoni was left covered with 3rd degree burns. He had more than 50 reconstructive operations to repair the extensive damage to his body, including to his lungs and his voice box.

For months Benoni had to have oxygen administered every ten minutes to ensure that he could breathe. His medical costs over a year were more than 1.7 million SA rands. His mother had medical aid but said it did not cover all bills nor his monthly needs which were R2000 at that time.

The family's home was insured through their bond (mortgage) and so it was rebuilt, but the household contents were not insured. They considered taking legal action for compensation, as there seemed some doubt over electrical compliance at the time of purchase; a fact that the bond provider should have been aware of.

Another child that the charity has assisted, called Samkelo R, took South Africa electricity parastatal Eskom to court for R12 million in 2002/2003. His case was based not on his kite touching the power lines (the electrical surge then amputating his hands), but in the company having an obligation to educate the general public about the dangers of electricity, and allegedly failing to do so. Samkelo eventually reached a settlement in the region of R2 million but legal costs took half of that money.

Family circumstances

Benoni's family was substantially better off than most families that the charity seeks to assist, as they had a good brick-built house, a car, a good-sized garden and two dogs.

One of the dogs, Jockey, was provided by Children of Fire through its link with television actress Nathalie Bollt. Nathalie played 'Joey' in the SABC soapie Isidingo (The Need) and her mother ran an animal sanctuary in Hartebeesportdam called HAWS. The family wanted a younger dog to accompany their existing more-elderly pet and it was hoped that the dog would also be therapeutic for Benoni. Children of Fire Trust administered some R6000 raised through public donations to the Felicia television show, for Benoni, as they wanted money to be handled by a reputable charity. Marietjie used the money for petrol and related costs until it was finished. In addition to this, the charity passed on R500 in Edgars clothing vouchers for Benoni from chat show host Felicia Mabuza Suttle. The family used the media to appeal separately to Benoni's personal account and, according to the Saturday Star newspaper, garnered R80,000 from the Gold Reef City entertainment centre to buy a working prosthetic hand - though to the best of our knowledge Benoni never got one... He just had a cosmetic one which looked odd.
A ground-breaking operation was intended to take place in March 2003 in Cape Town to give him working digits on one hand within two weeks, but the exact procedure was not detailed to the charity.
Instead of the expensive see-through dressings like Opsite typically used for burns wounds, when Benoni was not undergoing treatment with leading reconstructive surgeon Dr Gavin De Aguiar in Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital, his mother said that she used see-through food wrap (Clingfilm; Gladwrap) instead. She said that it worked comparatively well.
Children of Fire however gave Benoni some specialised dressings and also arranged a meeting with Smith and Nephew, a company that makes many burn-and skin graft-appropriate dressings, to ensure some pro bono out-of-hospital support as well.
Children of Fire volunteers try to give support and the charity lent Marietjie, Benoni's mother, the book David (see Help Needed section of website) to help her through the emotional turmoil of nursing her son. We also gave Benoni items like clothing, toys, clothing, games and sweets. At an event held in June 2002 to raise awareness of Children of Fire, Magdalena Wysoczanska (better known as Fire the SA television 'Gladiator'), auctioned an airbrushed photo of herself with Benoni (bought by her then boyfriend) and pledged to give the family R4000 from the proceeds. The cash was given to Ms Janet Potgieter of Platinum Projects and eventually handed on to Benoni though all the other money raised for Children of Fire's other children was kept by Potgieter, as her company was in financial difficulty. Even by September 2010 that money collected in the charity's name had not been paid to Children of Fire.
Benoni did not absorb how much he had and how little the other children had in comparison. He was from a white Afrikaans area of South Africa and never offered to do anything for the black children who were burned, that he met through the charity.
He enjoyed playing pool and mixed well with other children when Children of Fire and Eco Access combined to run Africa's first Burns Camp in September 2003. Benoni is now moving ahead as a young adult. We hope that one day he will feel the urge to help other burns survivors at Children of Fire.





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This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2017.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
For further information, email firechildren@icon.co.za