The following is an e-postcard from Sandra Dickison, a GlobalGiving Representative in Taiwan.
Often ignored. Often indoors. Often forgotten. Sunshine Foundation seeks to help those that "shun the sun" because they have burns that cover much of their body by providing rehabilitation services, advocacy for burn survivors, and livelihood opportunities for clients.
On August 6th, Ana and I visited Sunshine Foundation's Taipei Rehabilitation Center. This is the main center for Sunshine Foundation; however, they have 6 regional centers spread throughout Taiwan. At these Centers, Sunshine not only provides rehabilitation services, but they also make the bandages worn by clients. Ana and I were amazed at the intricacy in measuring and creating the garments - every knuckle is measured, every centimeter counts because these garments put pressure on the skin and help with healing - they are also worn nearly 24 hours/day.
Besides visiting the sewing room and meeting with staff, we also had a tour of the rehabilitation center where we saw clients practicing what may appear to be simple exercise - such as squeezing a ball - but are actually exercises that take a lot of concentration and practice. Each client has a specialized rehabilitation plan and they come to the center every day, from 9-5 just like a job. They also live in Sunshine's Halfway House where they find support from their peers (an important part of the healing process) and they gain the confidence to venture out and be in the sun. For example, everyday for lunch and dinner, the clients must go outside to a vendor or a restaurant. With the support of their peers and Sunshine Foundation, burn survivors build the confidence they need to succeed.
For young burn survivors or children with facial disfigurement, part of returning to a normal life after long months of physical rehabilitation means going back to school, among their peers, and pursuing their academic goals. This is especially important since the long process of recovery, with multiple hospital stays and continuous rehabilitation, often disrupts and even interrupts schooling.
However, school re-entry can sometimes be a difficult process not just for the child, but also for his parents, for the school and for his peers. The child might fear being treated differently by his peers due to his different appearance. If schooling was interrupted, there are also worries about having to catch up. Parents will also be apprehensive; after all the pain and suffering their child has gone through, the last thing they want is for their child to face negative attitudes or rejection from his peers.
Teachers might be unaware of the best way to support the return to school of the child or how to prevent and deal with negative attitudes or behaviors from classmates. These negative attitudes and behaviors generally stem from a lack of understanding on the part of classmates who don’t know what it means to be burned and are unaware of the best way to interact with someone who has a form of facial disfigurement.
Fear, apprehension, lack of understanding and uncertainty can make return to school a difficult experience, but Sunshine Foundation has developed a model to work with the child, the family and the school to facilitate school re-entry process.
During the rehabilitation program, prior to the child returning to school, social workers and psychological counselors will work with the child and his parents to prepare them for life in the classroom by dealing with feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Social workers will also facilitate communication between parents and the school, helping teachers understand the needs of the burned child and clarifying the needs and expectations on all sides.
In order to facilitate the return to school of children with facial disfigurement, the Foundation also organizes (upon the request of the child and parents or school) activities in the school to raise awareness towards burn prevention and acceptance towards people with facial disfigurement. Social educators have devised activities and games to help schoolchildren understand and experience the physical and emotional difficulties their classmate encounters. The goal is to reduce misunderstandings, avoid prejudices and facilitate integration of the child. For example, by playing games in which children must wear pressure garments, they can experience for themselves the discomfort of their classmate and feel more empathy towards his situation.
Because I was severely burned, I had to stop going to school and only returned in Second Grade. I had to wear pressure garments and a pressure mask; people in school would laugh and point at me, I would be the subject of never-ending conversations. When I returned home, I told my mother I didn’t want to go to school anymore so she immediately discussed this with my teacher. They decided to call Sunshine Foundation and ask a social educator to come to my school to organize educational activities. Only then did I return to school.
Hsiao-Kai, burn survivor
Thanks to your support in 2012, Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation has been able to provide rehabilitation services for 567 burn survivors across Taiwan. Funding received for the “Rehabilitation for burn survivors in Taiwan” project specifically targeted the physical rehabilitation needs of our clients. This includes:
Services at the Sunshine Rehabilitation Center:
Established in Taipei in 1992, Sunshine Rehabilitation Center offers comprehensive physical rehabilitation services for burn survivors, including burn care education, reconditioning exercises, ROM exercises, functional activities, splinting and ADL training.
In 2012, the team of seven therapists of the Center helped 48 burn survivors undergo individualized and comprehensive physical rehabilitation programs. Due to the severity of their burns (average total body surface of 47%), these clients require daily and long term physical rehabilitation interventions to fight scar contracture and regain physical functions. The average rehabilitation program of these clients was 316 days, and of these clients, 17 successfully completed their rehabilitation goals in 2012.
In the case of less severe burns that do not require an intensive intervention, the Center also offers consultations and trainings. In 2012, a total of 95 clients benefited from 696 consultations, and 50 clients benefited from 3,548 trainings.
Home rehabilitation services:
For burn survivors living in the central, southern and eastern regions of Taiwan, our five therapists based in our four regional service centers carry out home visits to help clients evaluate their rehabilitation needs, prepare a rehabilitation program that can be carried out at home, as well as follow up progress. In 2012, our regional outreach program benefited a total of 395 burn survivors.
Pressure garment services:
Pressure garments are an integral part of the rehabilitation program of burn survivors. These garments are used to control scar growth and prevent deformities. They are custom-made by the therapists of Sunshine Rehabilitation Center to perfectly fit our clients' individual needs. In 2012, the Center produced a total of 4,112 garments.
Because of you, we have been able to achieve our service goals for 2012 and accompany burn survivors on the long road towards recovery. Many of our clients are still working hard to complete their rehabilitation program and return to a full and active life. We hope that you will continue to support their efforts in 2013!
“I wish I could make my scars less visible…”
“What can I do to make my features look more even?”
“Even though I was burned, I want to look my best. I want to feel beautiful.”
Burn survivors undergoing physical rehabilitation, wage a daily battle against contracture and deformity, to try and regain the best physical functions possible. But once the battle is won, and despite all the developments in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, the scars will remain and burn survivors must then learn to live with them. The process of accepting one’s changed appearance can be difficult; apart from dealing with their own internal struggle, burn survivors must also deal with the stares, questions or even negative reactions of strangers.
That is why in 2002, Sunshine Foundation launched its image enhancement services, to accompany burn survivors on the road towards building self-confidence. By offering skin camouflage consultations, styling consultations and social skills trainings, the specialists of Sunshine help burn survivors learn techniques and skills that will enhance their confidence and courage to face the world.
Skin camouflage is an important component of our image enhancement services. By using water-proof covering creams and special makeup techniques, our specialists can help burn survivors reduce the appearance of scars or skin discoloration, as well as regain some of the facial features they lost due to burns. With the stroke of a makeup brush, lost eyebrows can be drawn and the slant of the mouth deformed by scars can be corrected.
Apart from organizing individual consultations and group activities centered on image enhancement and social skills building, Sunshine Foundation also promotes skin camouflage with the wider public, to raise awareness about this special makeup technique, and at the same time educate the public about the process of self-acceptance and confidence building that burn survivors must go through. One of our most important “public-oriented” activities is our bi-annual participation in the International Cosmetics Exhibition held in Taipei. For this year’s event, Sunshine Foundation recruited the help of two famous Taiwanese stylists to demonstrate on stage simple image enhancement techniques.
One of the models was Hsuan-Ju, who was severely injured 9 years ago in an explosion at the factory where she worked. Burns covered 65% of her body, including her face, lower and upper extremities. For a long time, Hsuan-Ju avoided mirrors and rarely went out. When she did go out, she did her utmost to cover herself up, relying on pressure garments to hide her scars, and wearing a hat and a mask to cover her face.
When Hsuan-Ju was introduced to image enhancement services of Sunshine Foundation, she learned skin camouflage techniques to make the color of her scars more uniform, and she learned hairstyling techniques to make her scars and asymmetrical features less obvious. By using these techniques, she progressively regained the confidence to go out and face people. Hsuan-Ju is now a busy, confident businesswoman who owns a carwash center, and she no longer needs skin camouflage every time she goes out.
For some burn survivors, skin camouflage becomes part of their daily beauty regime. For others, skin camouflage is used for a while, during the process of re-learning how to face the world confidently. Either way, skin camouflage is a tool at the disposition of burn survivors. Burns might have taken away a lot of things from them, but it hasn’t taken away their right to look and feel beautiful and confident.
2012 is almost over and as we look back on this year’s events, we have much to be grateful for. Thanks to your support, we have been able to join the GlobalGiving family in September. Because you donated to our cause (Rehabilitation of burn survivors in Taiwan) and helped promote our work with friends and family, not only were we able to meet the objectives of the Open Challenge, but in fact we were able to exceed them well beyond our imagination. A big thank you to all our individual donors, as well as to the employees of companies like Pegatron for making this possible!
A burn injury is perhaps the biggest trauma a person can go through. Medical treatment following burns is painful, but the ordeal of burn survivors does not end after leaving hospital. In fact, burn survivors face months and years of rehabilitation to regain their physical functions, rebuild their self-esteem and start anew, with their scars. For clients of Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, this is a process that can take an average of 9 months, sometimes more, and is punctuated by a series of seemingly never ending operations. For burn survivors, life with family, friends and work seems on hold as they devote all their energy and efforts to rebuilding themselves.
To add a little bit of the Chirstmas spirit to our clients' rehabilitation routine, our therapists asked them to paint Christmas ornaments and write messages of hope and encouragement. It's not easy to hold a paint brush when your arm is in a splint, and it's difficult to write your name when your hand is compressed by a pressure glove, but our clients happily took part in the activity, forgetting their functional difficulties to give free rein to their creativity.
As you get ready to celebrate the Holidays with your family and friends, we hope that you will remember these brave survivors for whom there is no vacation from rehabilitation, and that you will continue to support us. You make it possible for burn survivors to focus entirely and without worries on recovering and returning to active life in society.
On behalf of all our clients at Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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