“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!
Among the many burn survivors that Sunshine Foundation helps every year, there are also burned children. They were usually injured at home, most often by scalding hot liquids. They are our little Sunshines.
Just like adult burn survivors, they go through the long and painful process of rehabilitation to prevent scar contracture and deformity. But because they are still growing and to ensure that their development is not constrained by scars, they need to undergo over the years multiple surgeries for skin graft or scar release. While other children have wonderful memories of going on trips with family or playing with friends during school vacations, the most vivid childhood memories of many burned children are of hospital stays, surgeries and seemingly never ending rounds of rehabilitation.
And while the apprehension of going back to school and starting in a new grade is easily overcome by most children once they are reunited with their friends, for burned children, return to school often means facing series of questions by curious classmates about why they look different. When the child starts in a totally new school environment, curiosity of classmates can often lead to negative comments, exclusion and even bullying.
“After being burned, I had to withstand the strange looks that people gave me and I got used to it quickly. In the school’s hallways, there would always be people staring at me with a surprised look, making sounds of disgust. I got used to that as well. When I went to the market with my mother, the busybody housewives with an opinion on everything would say that my burns were karmic retribution. Would that make you feel sad? Did I forget to say that I would often cry on my way back home after school?”
- Pain, now 28, burned when 3 years old
As children grow, they naturally become more self-conscious about their body and their looks, but for burned children, this self-consciousness is exacerbated by their different appearance.
“In 5th grade, we started to have swimming classes. Classmates would stare and ask questions when they would see my scars. I was still young then so I didn’t think too much about it, but nonetheless, I started to find excuses to skip swimming class, and at the same time avoid the whispers and stares of classmates. ”
- Love, now 18, burned when 5 years old
In order to help little Sunshines on the road to recovery, Sunshine Foundation offers physical rehabilitation services, but also psychological support and counseling to help children and their parents deal with trauma and emotional difficulties. Through their work, therapists, social workers and psychological counselors help burned children progressively cope with their different appearance, build self-confidence and self-esteem necessary to face the world, as well as learn how to deal with other people’s reactions. And Sunshine’s school re-entry counseling program helps facilitate the return to school of burned children by working with teachers and classmates to teach respect and acceptance of differences.
Little Sunshines don’t have it easy, so Sunshine does its utmost to make sure these children and their parents never loose hope in the future, because experience has taught us that eventually, things get better.
“I feel very lucky. After undergoing three skin grafts, I can still be an energetic athlete. And I have a family that has supported and encouraged me throughout everything. When I was hospitalized, they devoted themselves to me. I was small then, but now that I am grown up, I understand how blessed I am. What is important is to have a grateful and optimistic heart, and to understand that the life I now live was much hard-earned.”
“You probably heard the expression ‘Time heals everything.’ It has a lot of truth in it. As I grew up, the time spent laughing increased, the amount of tears shed decreased. Maybe it’s because I have a cheerful disposition, maybe it’s because the people around me have gotten used to my scars, but a lot of people tell me that my optimism tends to make them forget about my scars. All my efforts in fact are to show one special person that I’m OK – my mom.”
For burn survivors, leaving familiar home surroundings and the protection of family to embark in the long battle against their scars at the Center can be scary and daunting. Family members might feel conflicted when comes time to making the decision, hesitating between the need to encourage their loved one on the road to recovery and the desire to protect them from further hardships. Below is the story of one of our burn survivors that shows this dilemma, and how in the end, by working together, burn survivor, family and therapist made the sacrifice all worth it.
When A-Hui finally decided to bring her injured mother from southern Taiwan to the Rehabilitation Center in Taipei, she had already been lying in bed in a nursing home for eight or nine months. Having lost all functions in her arms and legs, she couldn’t do anything by herself. Having lost hope and the will to live, she believed that she would spend the rest of her life in this hospice bed.
The therapist at the Center spent time explaining to mother and daughter the challenge that lay ahead, convincing them that for the mother to recover, all three of them would have to work as a team and be relentless.
A-Hui saw first hand the pain of rehabilitation. Thick scars and loss of muscle strength made it almost impossible for her mother to stand up for 20 seconds. Held by A-Hui and the therapist, her mother struggled, screaming and crying in pain, all the while counting from 1 to 20. A-Hui had to get a grip on herself, and not weaver in her resolve to help her mother despite seeing her in so much pain.
Her mother had to re-learn everything: eating, drinking, walking, standing up, climbing stairs by herself. After one round of exercise, she would say: “Let’s do one more!” The belief of Sunshine’s therapist that recovery is possible was transmitted to A-Hui and her mother. Soon, A-Hui’s mother was able to stand up and count to 30, then 40, then 60… Eventually, she was able to stand for long periods of time and walk by herself.
The recovery of A-Hui’s mother is not a miracle, it is literally the result of blood, sweat and tears. With the support of A-Hui and the encouragement of the therapist, she was able to overcome the disabling physical and emotional effects of months of immobility and regain the ability to live independently.
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