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.”
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