5th Aug 2020 3:19:15 PM

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Children of Fire

British Volunteers 2010

Britons who want to volunteer in South Africa, should first visit:


They can apply for a Volunteers Visa, which might take two weeks to obtain. Apply for a year-long-visa, even if you initially intend to help only for six months. Many volunteers have come to help, then gone travelling in nearby countries or within South Africa and then wanted to help again. It is easier to apply once instead of trying to extend it later. Once you get to know the people, South Africa's good weather and good company can become addictive.

Volunteer Visas apply to: "All foreigners who wish to undertake non-remunerative volunteer or charitable activities with bona-fide institutions/organization inside South Africa." You will need a Police Check which might take three weeks to obtain. And you will need chest X-rays.

We also recommend that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B; the latter takes six months to get all three doses. We recommend vaccination against meningitis (not all variants can be vaccinated against). And while Yellow Fever is not a problem in South Africa, having that vaccination (which covers you for ten years), allows you to travel more widely within Africa.

Johannesburg is not a malaria area, so there is no need to take malaria medication. You can purchase the medicine in South Africa if you are likely to travel to any malaria area. There is no need to apply for a Work Permit. Those are only for people who are going to be offered paid work in a formal job.

Work permits are a form of temporary residence permit. They are issued for a maximum period of one year, after which, on application, they may be extended. You should apply for a work permit if:

You wish to take up temporary employment in South Africa, with or without reward and whether for your own account or not.

The overriding consideration in dealing with applications for work permits is whether the employment or task to be undertaken cannot be performed by a South African citizen or an approved immigrant already residing in South Africa. Employment opportunities are, as a result of the prevailing economic climate in South Africa, extremely limited and there is at present no special drive or project to attract foreign workers to South Africa.

Volunteer's View

Children of Fire volunteers/friends

See saw on September Sunday 2009

Genevieve Mezoh, a biochemist from Cameroon, came to volunteer at the charity for some months in 2009.

She had intended to study medicine but changed her mind after she saw how badly patients are treated in South Africa - not least the four to eight hour waiting times for simple procedures and consultations.

Our two current volunteers on this project, hope to meet Jacob Zuma to try to get funding for a good building in which to make the jam.
For more information, contact 011 726 6529

Volunteers and children have so many birthdays - there are at least five in November alone.

Children of Fire volunteers/friends and kids in tree By swimming pool Bronwen with little Bronwen (nearly 3) and Mfundo Vusi

Dr Quinn comes to School


Being a volunteer at Children of Fire involves a lot of hard work but there are fun times too. On November 7th 2006 Marietta Neumann from Germany and Koichi Morita from Japan got to meet British-born actress Jane Seymour on her short trip to South Africa. Jane is possibly best known for her role as a doctor in the mid West of America, the long-running television story set a hundred years or so ago and called Dr Quinn. She has also been in feature films and James Bond movies.

My volunteer experience with Children of Fire

I have been a volunteer at Children of Fire since August 2005, a full 14 months at the time of writing.
People tell me that I have “grown”; that I am much older than I was when I first came. Also more confident and bolder. I suppose this is partly true. I had just finished school in June 2006, had not a speck of work experience apart from a once-a-week stationery job at a pharmacy, and suddenly found myself in the tough environment of a charity, where everyone fights daily battles for justice and for the needs of the children. To tell the truth I myself battled to adapt. Bronwen Jones, the director, was just back from hospital from severe illness, and my colleagues were all university students and seemed to expect from me that I just knew what I should do and that I should not need any guidance.

So on my first day I was told I can just think of a project and work on that.
Me having not a clue WHAT Children of Fire actually does and HOW it does whatever it does. On the next day I was asked whether I had thought of a project yet.
Big-eyed and flabbergasted I declined and started to get worried about what I would actually be doing for this coming year where nobody expected me to need help. And I so much wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. But then I decided it was too early to worry and so I shut up and waited for what may come. For what seemed a long time I was only in a “be quiet and listen”-mood, hoping that I would soon understand this business and be able to put my eagerness into action. I was told later that everyone thought I was going to fly home after a week.

About a month after my arrival three of my four colleagues went back to their different countries, and after two and a half months the fourth left as well. I think only then I really got started. I was given more tasks and I stopped feeling competitive. I could work to the best of my abilities and feel good because I did not see someone next to me doing everything “better”.

Over the next few months I learned as much as people at other places would learn in a lifetime. My first long-term task was to organize a big fund-raising event, the annual “Chocolate Fest”. This included networking, asking for sponsorships, getting publicity for the event, finding out about the laws of event management and much more. I made many mistakes but like humans do I learned from those, too. Along the line I was assigned for all different sorts of small jobs, branching into every working field that one could think of: I learned Braille and started to teach six-year-old Caitlyn at the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disability Children (Children of Fire’s sister charity).

I accompanied disabled Dorah to speech and physiotherapy sessions and learned how physical disabilities can be improved by exercise. I even gained insight into the medical profession. I stood in the operating theatre along side four-year-old Feleng when he went into an operation on his eyelid; I saw Sicelo through eleven months of tissue expansion on his forehead – stretching the skin to make a new nose!

  • which only took so long because the balloon-like device under his skin was leaking; and I represented the charity on assessments for children that were due for many other operations (and witnessed medical doctors giggling like schoolboys when discussing the average nipple diameter for a 16-year-old whose breasts had been burned).

I even got to watch two surgical operations in Johannesburg General Hospital. I practised my writing skills in several articles for the Children of Fire Newsletter, laying out the newsletter and the leaflet.

I learned how to deal with government officials and grumpy parents. I even touched the surface of building law, damp-proofing and labour law. And I delivered magazines to long term prisoners, to try to keep their minds more usefully occupied.

This is the amazing thing about Children of Fire: its work is so diverse. Indeed it is exactly what you need, if you do not yet know what you want to do in the future. And if you do know what you want, you can get practise in almost anything that you want to specialize in.

Working with South Africa’s children carries emotional burdens due to their incredibly unlucky fates. Working with South Africa’s burned children can be even more disturbing. One of our children, Sicelo, comes from a poor family background. When he was burned at the age of one month, he lost most of his right arm and most sight of his right eye. He is now eight years old.

His face is disfigured and when I am at hospital with him many people give him rude stares – parents don’t seem to have the sensitivity to call their children back when they walk up to him and stare him in the face. The boy is a miracle. He makes friends with everyone. When people stare he will either stare back or talk to them. He knows that one of his best friends was scared when he first saw him. He is HIV positive and he knows it. He would be lucky to live into his thirties, but he does not know that. I will never be able to understand why this has to happen to a child like Sicelo.

Life is not fair, and too many people suffer terribly. Working with Children of Fire I had such a vast new insight into reality – an insight that I would have never gained back in Germany. I am glad that I came, that I gave of my time freely for others, because in the end, I have gained more than them.

I recommend volunteering to anyone – young or old. Just stay long enough to know that you have made a difference and do not give up if you think it is hard.

New Volunteer: Marietta Neumann

My name is Marietta Neumann and I am 18 years old. I lived in Hamburg, a city in northern Germany with my father, my mother and my brother Felix.

I like playing the guitar and the piano, and I also like music in general. I also like sports, but just for fun in my free time.

I am just finished with school and since I was uncertain what to study, I have decided to do something that is called "Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr" in German - a year of volunteering.

I came across "Children of Fire" through my grandmother, whose friend has a friend in Pretoria, South Africa, who forwarded my mail to volunteer Nancy Kluth who forwarded it to director Bronwen Jones.

When I finish my year in South Africa I believe that I will have a better idea of what I want to study at university and I think that I will have gained some significant life experience.

This is one of many letters received by Children of Fire, that sums up the frustrations of trying to help as a children's ward-or-home volunteer. Children of Fire works with, and recognize, the wonderful commitment of many medical staff, but has witnessed too much apathy on the wards not to comment on it as well.

Letter from the Cape:

I read your article about Dorah with great interest - and with sadness as well, because I had a feeling that I was hearing myself speak.

I am not looking after a burns victim myself the way you do, but I have been involved in a children's hospital for a year now. This hospital caters for a variety of long term patients - from mentally retarded, to TB sufferers, spina bifida and burns victims. The number of burns victims at that hospital is quite high. The children spend months there, having their skin stretched for grafts, or going for daily therapy. I became involved with the hospital about a year ago and since then my frustration has only grown.

Initially I went there because of an article in a local paper, asking for donations. So I took my three children and one Saturday morning we set off to deliver the toys. Our first reaction was shock. The hospital was very clean and all the children were fed and dressed and their immediate medical needs were obviously taken care of. But it was a place of such desolation.

We went to the playroom and found several children sitting on benches along the wall in a completely empty room. There was not a single toy or book among them and the room was painted hospital green. In the baby ward all the babies and toddlers were safely locked in their cots and the playpen was clean and very tidy - and very empty too.

Since that first visit I have been back to the hospital on numerous occasions - to take some of the children out, to paint murals in the playroom, to help with feeding the babies, and my constant feeling is that of frustration. I have never seen such indifference and apathy as I see among the nurses at that place. Invariably, when I come the babies and toddlers are locked in the cots without toys and the bigger children are just roaming the ward - again without anything at all to occupy them.

In the mornings the bigger kids go to a little nursery room run by a pre-school teacher but in the afternoons and on weekends they are totally at the mercy of the nurses. And it is always the same story - the nurses are either chatting or endlessly washing the floor while the children sit, lie or wander around, bored to tears.

They are very seldom taken out, even to the hospital grounds. In fact some of the long term toddlers are so used to being inside that they are terrified of anything new

  • be it grass, planes or just cars passing by. The hospital has a little playground
  • complete with rusty swings and slides, that are of course very seldom used.
The explanation is also always the same - the nurses are overworked. I find this explanation as hard to believe as you did when you went to visit Dorah at the hospital. And I also feel very strongly that the kind of indifference experienced by these children, who spend months at the hospital, amounts to mental cruelty. I also found the nurses' attitude to volunteers almost hostile.

Some are friendly, but often I feel that they would like me to go away, to stop meddling in their business, that they would prefer me to put the toddlers down in the cots, to pack away the toys and just leave everything tidy, neat and easy to clean. I have thought on several occasions of writing either to a newspaper or to the authorities in charge of the hospital but eventually decided that it would be counterproductive.

Who am I to tell the nursing profession that they are not so terribly overworked, that no child, and in particular immobile handicapped child or severely wounded child, should be left unattended for hours without stimulation, that burns victims need more than aqueous cream to help the skin, that children need to be touched, kissed, carried, tickled, talked to, that it is not enough to just keep them alive and clean?

Good luck with Dorah. She sounds like a lovely girl.

PS - I experienced the same fear and uncertainty about exposing my children to the burns victims as you did, but have found, like you, that after the initial shock, they accepted these children for what they are - just children - funny, naughty and lovely. It has been an invaluable experience for my own children and I think they became better people through that.

This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2020.
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