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Tsepho Dube, a 15 year old pupil of the German School in
Johannesburg, spent two weeks on work experience with Children of Fire. Her
heart's desire is to be an architect. What she wrote is available in a number
of translations (above) and in the section below.
Other young people have come to the charity for Community Service, in
South Africa. Such initiatives are only run by a few schools in Greater
Johannesburg (where the charity is based), but each of the young people who has
been here so far, has benefited from the experience at least as much as we have
benefited from their efforts.
Georgina Westcott (15) came somewhat sporadically for just an hour or so
at a time. She mainly helped with physiotherapy (with guidance) for Dorah. Of
her own initiative though, she brought a box of sand and sea shells for Dorah
to play with, to give her the feel (and to a lesser extent smell and taste) of
a very different environment. Her family donated second hand clothing to
survivors of squatter camp fires.
Tarryn Kelly (14), the daughter of a plastic surgeon, also mainly helped
with an exercise regime and playing with Dorah. She brought her younger sister
along and as a result, their school St Mary's went on to collect little Easter
eggs for us to take burned children in hospital; to make puppets and to make
tiny story books for injured children, and also to collect some money.
Tessa Richardson (17) from St Peter's, was older and has since gone on
to study medicine. She admitted that the primary reason for helping initially
was because it would "look good" on her CV, particularly with the highly sought
after places to study to be a doctor. She helped with Dorah and really warmed
to the little girl. Tessa also persuaded other pupils to help put plants in a
squatter camp. We had hoped that, with the medical nature of our work, she
would stay involved, but this no longer seems to be the case. Her mother Sue,
though, gave books to the squatter camp library, handed on clothes for squatter
camp fire survivors, and helped with a French translation for the website.
The better-educated children tend also to be the richer children in
South Africa, and so, being brought up with home cleaners and gardeners, they
are not particularly keen or competent at the messy work of looking after
injured children. But oaks from acorns grow and maybe some saplings will come
through this scheme.
As Ithemba publishing's activities have largely been usurped by those of
the charity, the regular publishing trainees sent here each year have also
contributed in part to the charity. Liz Salberg (22), Kirsty Buchholtz (23) and
Ichizu Wakabashi (14 but exceptionally bright) helped in handing out burns
dressings, improving the literacy of squatter camp residents or
counselling/befriending traumatised burn survivors or their families.
Ideally we would like a UK-educated Gap-year pupil or VSO, or a Peace
Corps volunteer from the USA, to assist us in a longer term, more sustainable
way, but each person that helps the charity undoubtedly raises awareness of our
work in their own homes, schools or colleges, and that can only be good.
Designing a house for a disabled child-adult
The vocational training, which
included weekends, started in May 2000. While Bronwen Jones normally runs a
charity that helps burnt children and also publishes books, she had agreed to
give me architectural training. My vocational training has changed my outlook
During the two weeks I spent my time designing a house for a disabled
girl called Dorah and I had to spend some time with her in order to learn more
about her - what she can and cannot do.
On Thursday May 25th, I woke up early, excited about going to work. The
day was not what I had expected at all. I had to measure Bronwens house.
You might not think thats much work to do in 8 hours but I promise you it
was more than enough. The next two days were as much work as the first, which
included calculating how many bricks it takes to build a house for your
information it takes about 18,000 bricks to build a medium-size 3 bedroom house
in Auckland Park, if all walls are two bricks thick. I had to draw a front
elevation and side elevation and I had to walk around the suburb looking at
different window designs as well as invent some of my own. I had to think about
which was the house faces and why the north side is warmer.
The fourth day was however different because I had to see and learn
what Dorah, who I had to design a house for, could do. This included helping
her eat as she needs a prosthesis to hold a spoon, and taking a walk to the
post office with her and Bronwens nine year old son Tristan. That was
probably one of my most interesting Sundays mainly because I was doing
something good and not only for Dorah but for me as well.
Taking her to the loo really just needed me to guide her and to make
sure that she did something!
This short time helping a child like Dorah makes a difference. Dorah was
involved in a shack fire and was left without proper hands, eye lids, a nose,
and proper lips. She has been living with her scars and a badly burnt face for
six years now. She has been living with Bronwen and has been through 24 painful
and expensive operations, which by the way were all done in Britain and were
paid for by the people there. Lips have been made for her from the skin and
tissue of her back, which allows her to eat solid food but it is hard for her
not to dribble and hard for her to shape words, and skin was taken from her
neck to cover her eyes. Dorah has three different noses, which were made for
her and which she wears every morning before she goes to a nursery for disabled
children, situated in Hillbrow. She also wears a little red hat every day
because, part of her skull was melted by the fire. The accident has made it
impossible for Dorah to do most of the things a normal six year old can do.
I was only there for two weeks but I learned that everyone needs and
deserves to be loved, especially disabled children. I have learned that there
is more to life than going shopping and caring about what the next person
thinks. Being with people who are so loving has made me see that maybe our
country has hope, that maybe if we stopped just for one minute to think about
all those people, especially children, who need to be loved and if we actually
did something about it, South Africa wouldnt have so many abandoned
I had to design a house that would be user-friendly to Dorah i.e. have
all the thing she can be able to use as a child as well as when shes an
adult. When designing this house I had to take in consideration the fact that
Dorah would be living in this house from when she was a child and would be able
live in it until she felt confident enough to live somewhere else. Maybe she
would live there for ever.
Number of rooms
When designing this house I had to work out how many rooms would be
suitable for a little girl like Dorah to be able to get used the new
surroundings as soon as possible. The house had to be one that would have
enough space, which would enable more than one inhabitant. So I after taking
all the information I had into consideration I decided to design a well and
brightly furnished house with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining-living room and
bathroom. The 2 bedrooms would have bay windows and would each have a door
leading to the bathroom this is especially good for a child like Dorah
when she needs to use the loo. Dorah's bedroom will include sliding doors
leading to the garden. This room will be the most interesting as it will be the
most colourful, this is to help Dorah identify all the contents of her room
including the room itself, and the most fun to work on.
Because of Dorahs weak eyesight most of the house has wooden
floors which will enable her to hear her footsteps and where shes going.
Wooden floors cost six times more than a concrete slab as a floor but the
initial high cost is worth it because of the benefits to low vision people. Her
bedroom will have a musical carpet though which makes a different sound each
time she steps on a different block.
The next most interesting room I dealt with was the kitchen and because
I gave this particular room so many corners I will have a lot of walls on which
I will have to work. This room will also involve a lot of colour.
What must take into consideration when designing a house is that a fire
can emerge from anywhere and at any time so installing fire doors is a
faultless must. These are doors that are much thicker than the normal and
allows a person more time to escape from a fire.
Also the house must be usable by any ordinary or disabled person so it
has doorways big enough for wheelchairs, and a ramp as well as steps leading to
each of the two external doors. There will be two main entrances which will be
through the kitchen and the dining room. Both these rooms will be brightly
painted - to help Dorah distinguish between the rooms and the contents of these
This house would have like most houses a garden outside the house, it
will also have one inside mainly because Dorah will have easy access to it and
because she will be safer playing inside the house than outside. The inner
garden is also really to give the house a wonderful and very interesting
feature to add into the design of the house. The inner garden is a beautiful
feature - and it will be surrounded by sliding doors leading on to two rooms,
but visible from most rooms.
The most interesting and difficult part of designing this house was the
roof, because the garden would have an open roof meaning it would be built
inside, but still get as much sun and rain as if it were outside. On the edges
of the open roof of the garden there will be gutters and inside the garden
there will be two barrels placed on two of the opposite corners. So when it
rains the water that gets into the gutters will flow straight into the barrels
and in return, this water will be used for things like watering the garden and
as a backup supply of washing water or even drinking water for the house. This
is to help the reduction of water SA needs as much water as possible due
to its water shortage. The angle of the roof and gutters was hard to invent.
The kitchen will have a bright kitchen unit with dark edges and light
colours inside. Contrast helps low vision people to find things. All around the
room the lowest drawers will be upside-down pull-out drawers that have a very
strong bottom which should be able to sustain Dorahs weight and allow her
to use them as platforms in order to help her reach things like, the fridge,
the microwave, the stove etc. and these platforms can be turned the right way
up to use as drawers again when shes older and taller. I made a model to
show how this works. Kitchen appliances will have big round buttons and levers
that Dorah can use without fingers.
The house will have photovoltaic solar panels in part of the roof. Every
adult height light switch can also be turned on with a big button to kick at
child height. All the light bulbs will be energy efficient. These might cost a
lot but last longer than normal light bulbs. And even though it will be
expensive to build, it will be a very low maintenance house i.e. cost as little
as possible to run.
This house will have two bedrooms one of which will be Dorahs,
this bedroom will have two doors, one will be the main entrance into the room
and the other one will be leading into the bathroom, this door will give her
easy excess into the bathroom, it will also include a bay window, a recess
forming window, and a sliding door leading to the inner garden. The other
bedroom will also have a bay window only it will be bigger than the one in
Dorahs bedroom, this room will have like Dorahs one door that will
be leading into the bathroom.
This bathroom with two doors leading into the two bedrooms, will be
brightly painted and tiled with two water-saving toilets and one chooses to
have a single flush or a double one. One toilet will be for adults and
double-up as a bidet (that makes is easier for disabled people without fingers
in particular to wash their bottoms) and another for children, and a bathtub,
which will enable Dorah to use it as a child and most of all as an adult. There
might even have a shower. Little children find it hard to get onto lavatory
seats. It makes sense to have a small toilet next to the big one. Even Dorah is
sometimes scared of falling in.
The other thing that I had to add to my design was 5 different rubbish
bins each with a purpose e.g. one for plastic, another for paper, glass,
ordinary rubbish that cannot be readily recycled, metals and compost for the
Costs (In May 2000)
The area of the house is 125 square metres and for building a house on
an area of this much space about 25000 face bricks, for good steady walls, will
cost about R25 000. (Stock bricks are cheaper but not so strong and then you
need to use plaster on top of them.)
External doors for the main entrances each cost from R500 to R900 or
Doors for inside the house cost at least R168 each
Wooden door frames cost R189 each
Steel door frames cost R120 each
Cement costs R20 a bag full
Building sand per cubic metre costs R75.
Fine sand and coarse sand will be needed for different jobs.
Crushed stones, also per cubic metre costs R85
There are lots of other costs like for safety glass for big doors (so
that Dorah doesn't hurt herself if she walks into them) but I ran out of time
to get all the prices and to work out the sizes.
N.B. if you need to know the actual amount of money the building
materials for Dorahs house will cost you will have to do the maths.
I had to phone builders merchants to source materials and to cost them.
TITLE: Designing for the Disabled
AUTHOR: Selwyn Goldsmith PUBLISHED BY: RIBA Publications Limited in the UK.
FULLY REVISED THIRD
EDITION PUBLISHED IN 1976
Magazines and brochures about the building industry and the UK's Royal
National Institute for the Blind Certificate in Multiple Disability course unit
4 "The environment and multiply disabled people".