21st Dec 2014 10:01:26 PM

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Children of Fire Taking the Burn so others don't have to
The bikers set off from Alexandra township on November 22, 2003... taking the kombi up to the Botswanan border before pedalling began in earnest
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).

Tyrone Woods

Geoff Brown

Lisa Forgan

Meagan Whitehorn
STUDENTS WITH HEARTS OF FIRE

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 Polokwane’s 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 water.

The most common burn injury is caused by hot water, but the most deadly is flame.

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 Fire’s 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 Johannesburg.

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 firechildren@icon.co.za 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 live on.

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 so.

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 black kids?

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 children.

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 December 22nd.

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 windy city.

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 Levtrade.

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 skills.

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, cycling.

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 heart."

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 all kinds."

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 reality.

"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 Town.

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 karel@digitalfish.co.za



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This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2014.
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