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
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