STUDENTS WITH HEARTS OF FIRE
|The bikers set off from Alexandra township on November 22, 2003...
taking the kombi up to the Botswanan border before pedalling began in
|Back row: Tristan (UMasheshanyana), Tyrone (bike rider), Patricia
(UMashesha), Mfundo (thinners/imbawula burns: UMasheshanyana), Geoff (bike
rider), Amukelani (UMashesha).
Front row: Lisa (bike support team),
Meagan (bike support team), Dorah (candle burns).
Sunday morning, December 22nd 2002, was the end of an almost three
thousand kilometre trek for two cycling students Geoff Brown and Tyrone Woods
and two UMashesha (quick mover) volunteers Elizabeth Botopela and Thomas
Ranamane. Their aim was to raise awareness of the plight of South Africa's
thousands of needlessly burned children.
Geoff Brown (082 39 29 250) and Tyrone Woods are available for media
interview, as are UMashesha Elizabeth Botopela on 082 396 8029 and Thomas
Ranamane on 082 391 3698.
They started their cycle ride from the Botswana border on the 23rd
November and reached Cape Town
arriving at the Victoria and Albert Hotel
at the waterfront at 10 a.m. on the 22nd December 2002.
Elizabeth, Thomas and the students have visited numerous hospitals en
route, where they handed out teddies to burned children. The teddies have
travelled a long way as they were knitted by the Teddies for Tragedies
organisation in Essex, UK.
The students have also handed out Children of Fire's safe candle holders
to mayors and burn shield dressings to rural clinics, hospitals and fire
stations. Both the safe candle holders (in which the candle floats in water, to
extinguish the flame if it is knocked over) and the teatree-oil-laden burn
shields are uniquely South African inventions.
In the far north, at Polokwanes FH Odendaal Hospital they met 7
year old Alfred Mashiane, who was burned with hot water.
Pedalling in gruelling heat conditions, they stopped at the Warmbaths
Hospital, where they spent time with 3 year old Michael, a burned boy whose
healing is hampered by him also having Aids.
In Johannesburg they met flame-burned Mfundo Ntamehlo.
Further south, they met Michelle Zwalibanzi, who burned with hot water
and Angelo Jones and Asemahle Ndololwane who also sustained burns with hot
The most common burn injury is caused by hot water, but the most deadly
The students are trying to promote awareness of dangers of open fires
and incorrect and illegal electricity, especially in squatter camps. This
awareness is also directed to families in urban areas, where the crime rate is
high and residents who lock themselves behind burglar bars are at risk from
electrical or gas fires and escape from the flames is impossible.
Children who have been burned are in need of high cost medical
assistance that is impossible for many families to afford. Children of Fire
Trust and Children of Fire International try to help these families with
medical, educational or therapeutic needs. The charities are also in constant
need of active volunteers and sponsors; without the help of the public, not
much can be done.
The cyclists were assisted by Meagan Whitehorn and Lisa Forgan who
co-drove the support vehicle along the route.
Elizabeth Botopela heads the UMashesha (quick mover) volunteers in
Alexandra township. The UMashesha help to extinguish fires, counsel injured
children, give first aid assistance and put on safety plays in schools. Thomas
Ranamane is the national head of Children of Fire UMashesha.
Elizabeth will spend the night of Dec 22nd with Children of
Fires Cape Town representative, Anna du Bois on 073 212 3592. Together on
December 23rd Elizabeth and Anna will visit the Red Cross Hospital, St Joseph's
Children's Home, the Sarah Fox Convalescent Home, and more. While most of the
burned children who have families, will be with them for Christmas, Elizabeth
is helping to build national links for the most effective ways to help children
and to prevent injuries. She will be available for interview until late
afternoon on December 23rd, when she will leave to catch the 6pm flight home to
As the cyclists rode into Cape Town, they were escorted by Cape Town
Disaster Management for the final stretch with a fire engine, paramedics, and
more. Contact Wilfred Samuels on 072 315 8898, Peter Daniels on 083 633 2516 or
Disaster Management central control on (021) 400 2135 for details.
Anyone who would like to provide the Children of Fire with assistance
can contact Bronwen Jones on 011-482 4258 or 011-726 6529, or email
firstname.lastname@example.org or look at
other sections of this website for detailed background information.
Donations can be made to: Children of Fire Trust, account number 614
920 23919, at First National Bank in Melville, sort code 25-65-05, or posted to
Children of Fire, PO Box 1048, Auckland Park 2006.
BACKGROUND TO THE BIKE RIDE
South Africa is still bedevilled by apartheid some eight years into its
multiracial, multiparty, democracy. Not apartheid in law but apartheid in
attitude. It is hard to shake off.
No longer do (most) employers give their gardeners and house-cleaners
tin plates to eat from, or plastic mugs for their tea. No longer do (most)
employers expect staff to use separate lavatories and pay them wages too low to
But the country has the biggest income disparity between rich and poor
people in the world and the richer sector would generally prefer not to be
reminded about it.
In an effort to remedy the wrongs of the past, there is a widespread
policy of affirmative action. Companies are encouraged to take on black rather
than white staff; they even get points on government tender documents for doing
Yet with the generation-long effect of "bantu education", it is hard to
find enough skills to go round. South Africa won't be rebuilt in a day.
And many white South Africans who could help rebuild it, have left or
are leaving as they now feel that - despite being richer and having had access
to better education - that there is no chance for them in their homeland.
Against this background, could you imagine a group of priviledged white South
African advertising students would give a damn about desperately poor, burned
Well two men in their early twenties - Geoff Brown and Tyrone Woods not
only cared, but they were prepared to cycle close on 3000 kilometres under a
baking South African summer sun to raise money and raise awareness for such
They were accompanied by fellow students Meagan Whitehorn and Lisa
Forgan and of course the UMashesha. Together they to visited hospitals and fire
stations on the long long road from Vivo (on the Botswanan border) to
Polokwane, Naboomspruiit, Warmbaths, and Pretoria. In late November 2002 they
were in Johannesburg again, joined by members of the Isidingo cast (SA's
leading television soapie) for a few kilometres of the route as well as young
imbawula-thinners-burns survivor Mfundo Ntamehlo.
The Midrand, Sandton and Alexandra fire brigades gave them a noisy
colourful escort. Especial thanks to Malcolm Midgley.
Then it was on to Vereeniging, Kroonstad, Winberg and Bloemfontein.
A day of rest and pedalling on yet again to Smithfield, Aliwal North,
Jamestown and Queenstown. Each leg of the route they asked burns survivors to
come forward - to talk about safety, to ask for help if they need it, or to
increase tolerance of the disfigurement that so often goes with burns.
On December 9th they were in Stutterheim, then East London, Port Alfred,
Port Elizabeth and Clarkson. No stopping to play in Plettenburg Bay but pushing
onwards to George, Riversdale, Riversonderend and Betty's Bay. Finally, after a
month on the road, they went through Somerset West and arrived in Cape Town on
Head of Cape Town Disaster Management Greg Pillay arranged an escort to
celebrate their arrival. Damage is done by fires week-in, week out in that
Just at the beginning of November this year, 500 families were left
homeless following fires in the massive Joe Slovo squatter camp in Langa and
the Wallecedene informal settlement in Kraaifontein.
The team secured a support kombi from Imperial Car Hire, petrol from
friends and Triple A School of Advertising and the insurance from Glen Rand
MIB. They were given accommodation from friends and from Rotary groups that
exist in most towns, sunscreen from Johnson & Johnson and burnshields from
Most of all, they wanted Southern Africa to wake up to the problem or
preventable burns injuries. The media try to highlight the dangers of tapping
into illegal electricity or leaving kids alone with a fire or a candle. But
somehow it seems that we aren't shouting loud enough.
Sometimes South Africa maybe gets overwhelmed with the high level of
HIV-Aids, of TB, of Malaria, of malnutrition and poverty and unemployment. The
problem list seems so long.
But the cycle ride was a positive move with young people reaching out to
help other young people.
The two UMashesha volunteers Thomas Ranamane and Elizabeth Botopela were
essential to communicate with children using all South Africa's languages well
and because both Thomas and Elizabeth have St John Ambulance Level 3 First Aid
Geoff Brown (21) and Tyrone Woods (24) were both students with Triple A
School of Advertising in Johannesburg.
Geoff has experience in marketing and business economics but his
favourite pastime is sport - from action netball and action soccer (for action
- read "indoor with nets all around") to rugby, gym, golf and of course,
Tyrone is described by team mates as "loving the limelight, very caring
with a soft side" who enjoys rugby and soccer. He says: "I'm very
sports-orientated, not one to sit behind a desk at all. I give full of my
The students met Children of Fire founder Bronwen Jones at a
presentation three months ago. Meagan said: "When we heard the briefing, we
were shocked. We wanted to do something more than just a theoretical project."
Geoff said: "We hadn't been exposed to such injuries before. I couldn't
believe that people are so insensitive."
Lisa added: "Tyrone came up with the idea of the cycle ride. If we had
never heard of this huge problem before, we knew we had to take the issue of
burns countrywide, so that's what we'll do."
The students say: "Even if all our effort just saves one squatter camp
from catching light, or gets one family to check their electricty is truly
safe, the effort would be worthwhile.
"We have met some of the injured children and know how very cruel people
are to them sometimes. It is time for people to wake-up and prevent burns of
Michele Venter-Davies, faculty head at the advertising school known as
Triple A, said: "Every year the AAA attempts to take on at least one pro bono
(free) campaign, but it is seldom that we see students actually implement
projects. Campaigns usually stop with the creative execution of marketing plans
developed for clients. The client would then be free to decide whether to use
any of the students' work or not.
"In this instance, the students were visibly shaken during a briefing
session by the charity Children of Fire. Few of them had any knowledge of the
extent to which burn victims exist in this country - and precious little about
the physical and financial horrors faced by the victims and their communities.
The enormity of the education and resources needed hit home, and one group of
students immediately came up with an action plan - beyond theory - into
"Often, we develop campaigns and walk away. Meagan, Lisa, Geoff and
Tyrone went a step further and committed themselves to doing something more -
to actually raising funds for Children of Fire. We are proud of them and urge
South Africans to support them - they are taking the
burn so that others won't have to."
The overnight stops on the journey were: Sat 23rd November: Vivo, Sun
24th: Polokwane, Mon 25th: Naboomspruiit, Tues 26th: Warmbaths, Weds 27th:
Pretoria, Thurs 28th: Johannesburg, Fri 29th: rest day, Sat 30th: Vereeniging,
Sun Dec 1st: Kroonstad, Mon 2nd: Winberg, Tues 3rd: Bloemfontein, Weds 4th rest
Thurs 5th Smithfield Fri 6th Aliwal North Sat 7th Jamestown Sun 8th Queenstown
Mon 9th Stutterheim Tues 10th East London Weds 11th rest Thurs 12th: Port
Alfred, Fri 13th: Port Elizabeth, Sat 14th: Clarkson, Sun15th: Plettenberg Bay,
Mon 16th: George, Tues 17th: rest, Weds 18th: Riversdale, Thurs 19th:
Riversonderend, Fri 20th: Betty's Bay, Sat 21st: Somerset West, Sun 22nd: Cape
There are fifteen thousand serious child burns a
year in South Africa. Hundreds of people were left homeless in early
November 2002 with massive squatter camp fires in Cape Town AGAIN.
Media features (or a series of stories) could cover: fire, the cause,
the injured and the dead, the community reaction to a disfigured survivor, the
guilt of a parent, education after the fire in a local school (our UMashesha
(quick mover) young men and women volunteers in Alex do demonstrations and we'd
like to take the initiative nationwide), talk about training (we train the
UMashesha in first aid, fire fighting and fire prevention) and intermediate
technology solutions (see the Water Tanks section of the website)... the
uniquely positive way to get "branding" into the squatter camps by having a
"sponsored by... " slogan on the side of a firefighting water tank), etc.
People in brickbuilt homes are also at risk from electrical fires (see
Juan on website), especially where they are locked in behind burglar bars,
don't have smoke alarms, etc. Boys (aged 10-14) who play with kites near pylons
and lose their hands and hair through electrical burns.
There are a suprising number of men who are burned through drinking,
being foolhardy, or simply by being unaware of how to help themselves with the
simple stop-drop-and roll protection method that is taught by the UMashesha.
James Partridge in the UK was in a car that caught fire when he was 18
years old. He did the worst possible thing as he ran - while alight - fanning
the flames and markedly worsening his injuries. He lost his face and had it
rebuilt through 32 operations. His chin is as smooth as a baby's bottom because
it is made from the soft skin of his shoulder blade. Not only will he never
have the option of growing a beard, but he cannot feel light pressure on the
skin. If James eats rice, he has to be very careful not to leave some on his
face, because he cannot feel that it is there.
While he feels his looks are now acceptable to society, he said it took
him about five years to come to terms with what had happened. He uses a firm
handshake a booming voice and great personal charisma to overcome the fear of
people who might otherwise hesitate to talk to him.
Other men describe falling asleep by a camp fire, while drunk, and
rolling into the fire. Amid horrific injuries, sometimes it is something
seemingly small that bothers them most of all - like the loss of eyebrows. One
man described having hair transplanted from elsewhere on his body to make
eyebrows - but he had never realised how unique each different sort of hair is;
how unique each different type of body skin and bone are, until now, as he
lives with eyebrows that have to be trimmed every day because they grow too
fast. He says: "It's like having a fringe in the wrong place."
Jerry, a young South African adult, was burned when his angry
girlfriend threw acid in his face.
None of us expect these things to happen but a large percentage of
the injuries are avoidable - through awareness.
Now please have a look at the rest of the website.
A series of logos designed and created
for Children of Fire by Karel Williams who can be contacted at