Why do we turn away from helping Children of Fire?
09 November, 2017 — By John Gulliver
Dorah meets artist Henried on Hampstead Heath
I GOT a call out of the blue last Wednesday from an old friend, Bronwen Jones, who, miraculously, has created a home and a charity for children gravely disfigured from burns.
Bronwen, who is a bit of a force of nature, couldn’t stand any longer seeing how horribly-burned black children were left to their own painful devices in South Africa and said: “If no one will help them, I will.”
So she set up a charity, Children of Fire, and with donations organised skin grafts – and also managed to house some of them in London where she used to live as a journalist in the 1960s.
You’d think it would be easy to raise money for medical assistance for these badly damaged children. That donations would pour in. That members of the philanthropic rich class would dig deep in their pockets and think nothing of it. But you’d be wrong.
You see, for some people, these children are too badly burned. For some people there are some types of badly burned people that can take the public gaze. And then there is an unacceptable level. It’s awful, I know, but there it is.
So, Bronwen, who has got one of the most persuasive tongues I know, even Bronwen, finds it difficult to raise money.
Dorah playing with leaves and ‘Mama’ Bronwen Jones
For one thing, there are no nice photo-opportunities to be held with the donor standing next to whoever is the subject. Why? Because – and this is rather awkward to say – the great and the good just cannot take in such badly burned people. They feel uncomfortable – and look it – standing near such disfigured people,
It isn’t easy. When I first met Bronwen more than a decade ago with her little Dorah – she is now 23 – at first I admit I couldn’t quite treat Dorah as if nothing had happened. It had. But I adjusted after a minute or two and picked her up – and from them on it was all right. I took her, with a colleague, Dan Carrier, to the offices of the London Mayor, and later to Camden Girls School where the pupils treated Dorah straight away as if she was one of them. According to Bronwen, Dorah is the “most badly burned child in the world”.
Bronwen rang me after she had been to the Royal Free Hospital looking for some prosthetic or other – I speak quite off-handedly here because Bronwen is always off to a hospital in London, whenever she comes to England, looking for a “nose” or an “ear” for her adopted children. Then she took Dorah to the Heath, and, as it was such a wonderful autumnal day, got carried away with herself and penned a lovely description of her visit which I thought I would share with readers.
Here it is:
“It is a wonderful place, even for an almost blind child, to be in touch with nature.
“Dorah can sit by the water’s edge and listen to the choir of coots, ducks, seagulls, geese and pigeons, each one keen to comment on the brisk chill mornings that have now arrived.
Dorah is befriended by a dog and his owner
“The deep piles of plane tree leaves are a sensory carpet of rustles and textures.
“The friendliness of people walking bouncy dogs, conversations with a bearded artist smoking his pipe, cuddling couples taking selfies.
“Hampstead Heath is one of the most beautiful parts of London and we always take time to soak in its tranquility, its glorious views.”
Then she said that early next year reconstruction of Dorah’s nose will begin, The operation will be her 40th!
She writes that while surgery is primarily to improve function, helping to improve Dorah’s appearance in a deeply discriminatory society will ease some of the daily pain of reaction.
She said disfigured people have to live with stares and terrible comments every day.
“Certain comments are never forgotten,” she writes. “One doctor said, ‘Oh, I thought children like this were only in NationalGeographic!’ And the headteacher of a private girls school in Sevenoaks, Kent, called Dorah ‘macabre’.
“To counterbalance the cruelty, there’s a warmth on the Heath as passers-by greet unusual children.
“Before catching a bus back to their home in Pinner, the Karma Bakery is a fixed part of Dorah’s schedule to enjoy a cinnamon bun and a mug of hot chocolate.”
Naturally, I am sure, Bronwen, who used to live in Belsize Park, is hoping my piece will jingle a few pockets – and so do I. But she cannot also help telling readers that her charity in South Africa is recruiting interns in architecture (for hospital design), those for media, medicine, international human rights and general law and primary school teaching. Gap year opportunities are also available.
Applicants would be based in Johannesburg – though some research volunteering can also be done in London.
To apply: email email@example.com or write to 53 Rickmansworth Road, Pinner, HA5 3TJ. Anyone can apply from age 18-80!
Donations can be sent to a JustGiving page or by Paypal – gift-aided where possible.
More details about Children of Fire at www.firechildren.org/index.asp