20th Aug 2017 7:49:24 AM

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Chris M
Main Pic

Chris M What a year 2007 will be for Chris. He starts in Grade 10; he will turn 18; he’ll travel to South America to play for a soccer team. He was also invited to be part of our Kilimanjaro trip, but soccer took first prize. Like most of our burned children, Chris lagged behind academically until Children of Fire's former Cape Town representative secured him a place in a good school in 2003 and he has caught up steadily since then. While Children of Fire paid his food and accommodation over a considerable time period, our more recent intervention was provision of a mathematics coach. Chris is not likely to need surgery again and while he could be a great inspiration to younger burns survivors, he has decided that he doesn't want to be considered a burns survivor any more. As such we no longer include his surname or pictures on this section of the website. But because it is important for donors to know who has been helped, where and why as well as for people to understand the different causes of burns and their possible prevention, so a synopsis of the story remains. When Chris got the chance to enter a good school with small classes, the idea was not to compare him with other children but with himself and to see how far he moved. Early reports from all his teachers were that he was an incredibly happy, exuberant, very well adjusted boy.. which meant that he occasionally forgot to do his homework, his desk was a mess and he'd much rather play soccer during break than do reading exercises with the remedial teacher. His social skills were excellent, his English has improved tremendously and generally the teachers were very happy with him and thought that the school has gained enormously from having him. Chris hailed from Oudshorn in South Africa's Western Cape. He has a ready smile, loves soccer and reading. He used to want to become a lawyer: 'to help people who have problems, and to make a good living, so that I can look after my grandmother when she is really old'. Then again on other days, Chris said that he would like to become a doctor or a soccer player. Chris is mildly scarred but initially wanted a special swimming costume made, but ten months later he longer felt the need for it. Other than the quite hefty school fees there was uniform to fund and transport and some pocket money too. School fees were met via the administrator of a number of trusts: Lorna Prosser and by well-wishers Anne and John Field. On his February 2003 sports day a friend wrote: 'He is truly an amazing child - so unbelievably positive. All the teachers I saw there said the same thing - he is blissfully happy. His English teacher said - he is constructively noisy in class and that's good, it means that he is happy and at ease. She then said that his English was very-very weak, but not to worry, he is not the only one whose spelling is rubbish!' The remedial teacher wrote a book with him about his life at home and in a children's home and about his accident and treatment. That way he learnt new words and wasn't bored. It was also some form of trauma counselling technique. Christopher missed some of his friends from the children's home at first but soon felt that his life was now at the new school Christopher took part in every sporting event except shot put. The school is not highly competitive in sport, and because it's so small everyone participates and many children do more than one event. In 2003 Chris came third in 1,500 m, 800 m, 400 metre race and second in 200 m race and high jump. Because he did so well, he later received a whole stack of certificates at the school assembly. The inclusion specialist said Chris seemed very happy at school, doing cricket, chess, managing with his homework. Six months after starting at the school Chris's ability to read in English jumped from Grade 2 level to Grade 4 level. His mathematics improved from Grade 4 to Grade 5 level. These are the two areas that are easy to test and easy to see results. English is his third language; the progress was impressive. He made lots of friends. He tended to 'compensate' for his lack of general knowledge and experience by being overly friendly and a bit clownish in class, but only in classes with female teachers. So he was moved to a class with a “sensible no-nonsense” male class teacher to improve his integration. Chris was found to be a brilliant cricket player and soccer player and was asked to play soccer for three teams including the under 15s and under 19s. Chris received between three and five hours of individual remedial teaching every week. He also received free hot lunches at school because the sandwiches that he had from his aunt were not enough to keep him going through the school day and all the sport he did in the afternoons. Chris stayed at school every afternoon to do his homework under the supervision of a teacher, since there was no parent at home to make sure he gets all his homework done. Part way through 2003 – a charity called the Jika Foundation wanted to take over paying for his subsistence. It would have been more helpful if the offer had been for the R30000 or more needed for his overall school costs. Only ten weeks later did we realise that Children of Fire’s “success story” was to be used in an advertisement for Jika – with no mention at all of our Cape Town representative’s prolonged and continuing hard work on Chris’s behalf. Chris and his friends enjoyed the fame at that time but it was insensitive on the part of people who should have known better. The Red Cross surgery was good and the surgeons deserve every credit for that, but the rehabilitation was down to Children of Fire's volunteers and thereafter, the school. A friend wrote: “Jika is making a public service ad as part of the Vuka competition. They want to make an ad to raise money for Rene's clinic and want to use Chris as an example of successful rehabilitation. I had to laugh but also felt in some ways hurt - his rehabilitation is not due to the clinic, or to Jika, but to me, to me taking him to a good school and convincing them to take him. It is also successful because I drive to Langa, buy him things for school projects, organise his party, etc... No one else did it for him, although they all said, ag shame, what a brave boy. I understand that it's their ad and so on, but to use Chris as an example of their success?” Chris’s “Firsts” for 2003 included: His own birthday party and going to the movies on his own (And it was his second trip to the movies in his life. The first one was an organised trip with a children’s home). Flying on an aeroplane. Eating in a fancy restaurant, Attending a Children of Fire's First Burns Camp in Africa. The school was highly supportive as children and the teachers took Chris to heart and have put an enormous amount of energy into helping him. Early Sept 2003 phone calls from Chris to Children of Fire are frequent. He would ask for a lift to someone's birthday party and to fetch him again. When he didn't want to go back to Langa he would ask if he could watch a video and request titles like the comedy 'Mr Bones'. Children of Fire also purchases small items for school like dictionaries or a soccer ball for his heroes to sign. He was at first a teenage lodger with fairly indifferent relatives but it was still better than being in an institution. Chris asks Children of Fire for little things like a second T-shirt for his soccer practices, so that when one gets dirty, he has a change of clothes. The aunt was not expected to pay for the extras, but was expected to care enough to notice and to ask. It was the same thing a couple of weeks previously: he phoned and asked for yoghurt and bananas because they were doing some cookery at school. He knew better than ask the aunt... The lodging arrangement was changed to place him in the home of a teacher. When staying with friends he watched videos, played on the computer, walked the dogs, and listened to a classical music competition in Stellenbosch. At his school it was announced in class that Christopher was going to a special camp for burned children in Magaliesburg and that he was going to fly to Jo'burg by himself. His class mates then started saying: 'Oh, please miss, please, I burned my finger when I was five, see, can I come too? And I burned my knee two years ago, can I come?' She said they were green with envy. Our Cape Town representative wrote: “Did you ever think that a day would come when other children would be envious of 'our' children?” At the end of September 2003 Christopher took part in a hip-hop championship at the Grand West casino. A friend went to cheer him on.. even though she wrote: “Oh dear... That music is SO ghastly... But he's been practicing for weeks the two numbers that he will dance and we'll have to do it.” Then he flew to Johannesburg with Jacques and Janine, two other children helped by Children of Fire. They stayed in Auckland Park before going to the burns camp in Magaliesburg. They returned to Cape Town a week later. The highlight of the trip was meeting Londeka – he fell in love. In October 2003, Chris spoke at a workshop on Child Injury Prevention, oranised by the Western Cape Province’s Department of Health. He spoke for about eight minutes about his accident, the more than 20 operations he'd had since then, years spent in hospitals, missed schooling, the fact that people stare and that he can't use his left hand. He spoke well and the audience was very impressed. So much so that one woman gave him a cheque for R150 'to buy something nice'. (Chris bought new “takkies” or plimpsols and borrowed an old squash racket – then he was ready for action). He even met the then Western Cape MEC for Health, Piet Meyer, who was moved by Christopher's story, shook his hand and mentioned him in his speech. This was Chris’s first public appearance. While absorbing all these new experiences, Chris remains true to his Xhosa traditions and maintains that he will go to circumcision school when he is 19 years old. He says it's his religion and his culture and he has to do it otherwise people won't respect him. In November 2003 his self-esteem was such that he wanted to be in every picture: class picture, soccer and cricket – the more the better. Chris's class teacher also said that he got very good results for Afrikaans, saying that it showed that he could do it. In December 2003, Chris received school awards for: Improvement in English, Most improved squash player and a dance award. Also in December 2003, Chris attended an informal training session with Ajax soccer club and another one with Santos. Both were arranged by a warm-hearted fire fighter Sylwin Rossouw. 4th Dec 2003 a friend wrote: “Chris went to the Ajax soccer club this morning. The child nearly burst he was so exited. He has a funny sort of silent way of getting exited. and when it gets too much he starts dancing or hopping! Anyways, he is spending most of the day with them and I just hope that he will impress them enough for them to consider taking him to the club. If he gets in, he will be provided with medical care, professional training, a foster family, two meals on every training day (that's four days a week), plus travel. He is a bit old - they normally take under 11s and under 13s - but occasionally they do take older boys - if they show special talent.” Ajax invited Christopher to a trial training session in January 2004 and gave him a fitness training programme to follow during the holidays. Finally in 2003, Christopher went hiking with friends before returning home to his grandma for a 35 degree Celsius Christmas. Chris craved a cellphone with games on and a contract for a certain number of prepaid calls and got one. Problems during the year There seems to be an inherently racist attitude among some professionals working in rehabilitation. While people could reasonably say one should not raise the expectations of a child if one cannot fulfil them, Children of Fire has had comments about Chris like 'he belongs in the township' - i.e. we should not send him to a good school and help him aspire to a good career and independence. The charity disagrees. So long as we have volunteers, champions of children, money, time and stamina, we will raise up every child as far as we can help him or her to go. History: Chris's mother died when he was an infant and the whereabouts of his father is unknown. When he was about a year old, he suffered severe burns in an accident at home. A pot of boiling water fell onto him, burning his scalp, face and hands. As a result, he lost all his hair, part of both ears and his hands were also damaged. For the next 12 years Chris spent long periods of time at the Red Cross Hospital in Cape Town and in a children's home. He can hold a pen, play on the computer, play cricket, and do everything that other children do. He even learnt to play the recorder. At the end of 2002 Chris was due to be discharged from a children's home and to go back to Oudshorn to his loving grandmother - a retired street cleaner. A friend comments: 'From past experience with disfigured children, we know that Christopher could drop out of school within the first few months because of the intolerant attitude - even aggression - of others. Burned children have been called 'fried chicken' and other names. Children and adults alike shun disfigured children. Moreover, schools in townships rarely have the resources, such as a psychologist or a remedial teacher that Christopher would need in order to reintegrate into mainstream education system.' She said: 'If Chris dropped out of school, not only would his own dream of achieving something in his life be shattered, but all the effort, time and money spent on rebuilding his face and hands will seem to have been wasted as well.' The rate of suicide among teenage burns survivors is high. Helping a burned child like Chris involves: Negotiating with social workers, teachers and government bureaucrats. Negotiating with family. Paying home visits to check on the child's environment - that he can be happy and secure there. Attending special events at school and key calendar dates like his birthday. Planning for all his school needs such as uniform, well in advance. Being a friend to the child and sometimes a friend to the entire family - but in administering donated money, being quite sure that no one is taking unfair advantage of the assistance. Ground rules have to be set with relatives of the child, on timekeeping and what role they are expected to play in supporting the child. The aunt was given a legal contract to ensure that she fed and accommodated him well, in return for financial support. Offers from other organisations to provide a 'surrogate father figure' for Christopher to attend events like sports days never materialised. Very few individuals seem prepared to make that commitment to a child that is not their own. Children of Fire also bought Chris items like sunscreen and sunhats as burned children suffer more in the sun than other children. We reimbursed our Cape Town representative for mileage involved in helping Chris at AA rates and sundries like the R50 school application fee. With any child we help…. our Cape Town representative wrote: 'The hardest is to start, to make the first phone call and to say to a complete stranger - I have a boy who is disfigured, slightly disabled, years behind in schooling, and with no money or parents, only a loving but uneducated granny - will you take him to your posh school? Simply because I ask you?' And somehow as the charity's name and reputation grows, maybe asking won't be so daunting each time.





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