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Fire & Rescue International April 2013

Refuge for child burn survivors across Africa
Local charity with an international footprint, Children of Fire, works with burn survivors in South Africa and across the continent, providing medical advice and assistance to disadvantaged children in urban and rural communities who would otherwise not receive adequate medical treatment.
The charity also coordinates awareness campaigns to educate impoverished communities about fire safety. This is done through various initiatives such as the production and dissemination of video fire safety tutorials to the fire services industry in South Africa, providing disaster recovery bags in informal settlements and training volunteer fire fighters in shanty towns most at risk, among other peer-to-peer fire awareness initiatives.
Children of Fire founder, Bronwen Jones, a Briton who has lived in Africa for 22 years, says that the disaster recovery bag is made available to indigent communities in disaster scenarios. However, the centre relies on funding to distribute the bag to these affected areas. She says, "The bag allows people to recover and feel half-decent for a few days, but we need people to sponsor it."
The contents of the bag includes basic living necessities, such as soap for clothing and also soap for personal use, a tooth brush, eating utensils, as well as a tin opener for food supplied with the bag, and clothes, explains Jones.
Jones also established a sister-charity the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disability Children which orphaned burn survivors attend while preparing for surgery. It is close to the Children of Fire premises located in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, which is the base of the pan-African charity work. However, Children of Fire's main task is to emotionally and physically rebuild young survivors of burn injuries in Africa and to assist and educate the communities in which they live, providing both prevention and cure. The origins of the charity are based on Jones' chance meeting with an infant burn survivor in 1996, who was abandoned and in critical condition at the Far East Rand state hospital in Springs, Gauteng.
Jones was moved to visit the six-month old burn survivor in hospital after reading of her plight in the media. She eventually was made the sole guardian of the child by officials and later adopted her.
Dorah is now 19 years old, notes Jones. "She is the most badly burned girl in the world to survive and everything came about because of her." Three hospitals turned Dorah away, denying her treatment, due to the severity of the burns sustained to her skull, face, chest and fingers. "She had a hole in her skull and had fourth degree burns," adds Jones.

Charity origins
Jones had worked as an engineering geologist at the time of her initial introduction to Dorah, at which point she gradually immersed herself in finding medical solutions for the child. Jones drew on her education to gain a foothold in the medical fraternity - setting up meetings with medical doctors and surgeons in order to negotiate medical treatment for child burn survivors.
"My technical background was useful in thinking about solutions for the child. I had the audacity to challenge the doctors. They did not want to spend the money it required to save Dorah," she laments. "I started Children of Fire, because I met her and was disappointed with the manner in which children were treated in state hospitals and nobody fighting Dorah's cause. She really had no one. My son Tristan and I wanted to find help for her."
Jones says that the severity of the burns sustained by the infant Dorah necessitated 32 different operations over the years since her accident. After initially tapping into her personal resources to provide help for Dorah, the centre was ultimately created and supported by the goodwill of small independent donors, who still provide all funding received by Children of Fire.

African footprint
Many years later and Jones extended the footprint of Children of Fire to provide medical care and assistance to impoverished communities and burn survivors across the African continent.
The charity employs a small team of volunteers and staff, some of whom are burn victim survivors themselves. Social worker manager at Children of Fire, Mitta Lebaka (23), is among a handful of workers in the employ of Children of Fire. Lebaka, herself, is a child burn survivor who received assistance from Jones when she was badly burnt as a child after her clothes caught fire from an electric stove at her mother's home in Soweto. Lebaka sustained serious burns on her neck and chest, receiving major neck surgery a year after her accident, while also undergoing breast reconstruction surgery later on in her life.
Lebaka now runs a base in London and works with children across the African continent, traveling to remote villages on the continent and on to medical facilities around the world that offer special medical treatment to child burn survivors.
The local charity has assisted more than 350 burn survivors from different parts of Africa, and this includes such cases as a girl burned in an acid attack in Gabon, west Africa; a boy burnt in a rebel attack in Sudan, east Africa; and a girl burnt in a stove explosion in Tunisia, north Africa. The rehabilitation centre takes care of between six and 40 children at any given time, all provided with repeated surgery and with occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
Jones says that there is a stigma around children who have been badly burned and she has found that some surgeons avoid working on child burn survivors. She adds, "It is getting harder to find medical help for these children as management of state health care declines and doctors emigrate from South Africa."
"Anyone who is badly burned - all they need is love and common sense," appeals Jones. Child burn survivors suffer both physical and mental trauma as a result of the cosmetic transformation they experience. Jones says that her task is to provide holistic rehabilitation to the child burn survivors. "Child after child came and I have gained great knowledge on how you can 'fix' these kids," she explains. "I've also learned that children under six year old get medical help for free in South Africa."
To this end, her work with young burn survivors becomes a race against time, before children reach an age where they are not permitted complimentary health care.

Burn statistics
Jones reveals that one in three burned kids are burned intentionally, adding that more than 15 000 children suffer severe burns in South African annually.
"A big part of the problem is that people are embarrassed to seek help when they face a nervous breakdown or they find that no psychological help is available to the poor, so they take out their anger or fear on the weakest around them; they set their nearest and dearest alight," states Jones.
Children of Fire is proactively involved in various fire fighting and awareness projects, such as the design of fire fighting water tanks to combat disasters in a critical post-fire period before fire brigades arrive on scene. Jones says, "That has saved significant number of lives. We have water tanks in East-Rand, some in Alexandra Township and also in Slovo squatter camp, in Crosby."
Another novel undertaking by the centre has been to work with inventors of new stoves, candle holders and fuels, specifically towards creating safer household fire appliances for the poor.

Awareness initiatives
Jones says that the centre is engaged with organisations across Africa to combat the prevalence of fire-related injuries among children. "We do research and interact with medical students and doctors. We also have volunteers that we use in different capacities," she says.
UMashesha, which means quick response, translated into English, is one project undertaken by the centre that coordinates a group of volunteers, who are trained in fire fighting, hazmat and first aid. "We get them to go where fire engines cannot go," says Jones. The uMashesha volunteers are based in the rural and informal settlements.
Other activities of the centres include publicising severe cases of burn survivors so as to educate the public about the particular incident and cause of the accident. "We have had one burn survivor, Franklin Mochadibane. He was burned with fuel gel - which was introduced as a possible replacement for paraffin fuel. We sent out press releases and invited journalists to interview Franklin that so people can learn from that," explains Jones.
She adds, "A repeated problem is people not keeping up public education and fire fighters can play a big role in that. If they can be more involved with continued education in communities we can cut down the number of deaths and injuries."
The centre visits hospitals and present toys to all the children patients, while at the same time conducting research. Jones says that she 'started with nothing' and so runs things on gifts-in-kind whenever possible.

Charitable precedent
Children of Fire is the first charity in Africa that is dedicated to child burn survivors. After providing medical help to hundreds of children across Africa for almost 20 years, mostly through the goodwill of donors who are 'by and large ordinary folks', states Jones, "We have an affinity with the poor. We speak out for children, because they cannot," she says.
Children of Fire and its founder, Jones is inspired and fuelled by the many burned kids who successfully integrate into society, despite their extreme and perceived disabilities. "Our children attend university, get married and do great things. They're doing things they never imagined they could do. They are superheroes. They don't know it when they arrive but they know it when they leave," she enthuses.
Jones' ultimate wish, however, is to build a Children's Burns Hospital in Botswana to serve sub-Saharan Africa. On Facebook it is called Place OfMiracles. She urges people to read about it on the charity's website: www.firechildren.org or to follow news on Twitter @ChildrenOfFire.







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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