Earth angels on this side of fire

 

I don’t know if I’ll enter the realm of eternal bliss when I die.  I try to do good things, and try to live according to the value system that is commonly espoused by “good” people. That said, I’m far from angelic and I’ve done things that I truly regret.

I’ve been known to take people out at the knees if I consider them incompetent and I have an abnormal problem with broom sellers on Sunday mornings. My father calls me Bodicea, and candidates I have worked with for 15 years refer to me – apparently in a positive way – as a pitbull. I make Anna Wintour look like a nursery school teacher.

With this in mind, I do charitable stuff. It puts the balance back. I’ve put a fair number of less fortunate people through school, given time when I could, given money to worthy causes and behaved like a blubbering idiot when an animal requires benevolence.

When it comes to Mandela as an icon of inspiration – though I’ve only ever come about 10 meters close to his person – he’s had a huge psychological impact on me. As he has on millions of other people around the world. So doing something meaningful for 67 minutes on his birthday was a no-brainer. It was just a question of what.

The Rebmormax staff settled on The Fire Children – an organization that cares for burn survivors, more often than not innocent children caught in the midst of shack fires.

I was apprehensive. We all were. Taking care of hellishly disfigured children – albeit for one afternoon – was way beyond my unconsciously placed personal boundaries. I’ve done charitable things, but at a safe distance. Emotionally, physically and spiritually, The Fire Children was not a safe option. Way beyond my comfort zone.

Our 67 minutes evolved into four hours of hell in three dimensions. Life changing. Shocking. Shattering.
We agreed to provide a long list of supplies to the home – desperately needed basics that we take for granted. Two of my staff went off and did the shopping. But we were still on the safe side of spending money, loading supplies and arranging transport.

We hadn’t yet come face to face with the fact that a seemingly innocuous outing with 18 children would confront us with such horror. And there is no other way to put it.

border: 10px solid white; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 10px;

The Fire Children are massively, overwhelmingly disfigured – some even more than others. And yet they piled into our vehicles like normal, excited, animated children on their way to Zoo Lake – all vying for a drive in the LandRover rather than the hired Combi.

It dawned on us all that a drive in a car was a major win, let alone an afternoon spent away from the confines of their home.

When we arrived, Willis Insurance (who partnered us for the day) was ready and waiting – hot chocolate and boerie rolls at hand. The kids charged off – onto the jungle gyms, embracing the space, looking at colouring books and crayons, and filling their tummies. So very normal and so very not. I needed to look at my 16-year old daughter, happily laughing and playing with these children, to muster the courage to do this thing.

(My darling daughter, you raised me up.)

border: 10px solid white; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 10px;The children were accompanied by three care givers. Three earth angels, beyond a doubt. Amanda, Steven and Simon, who look after, care for and love these terribly injured and hurt people and help them to survive a devil’s doing.

And the worst was yet to come. One and a half hours later, happier children for the experience, climbed back into the cars, fed and replete. When we got back to the school, it was 5:45. Transport for five of the children had come and gone.

So we offered to take them home in the Combi. Two of the earth angels climbed into the car with my daughter, myself and five little people. Destination: Joe Slovo shanty town.
Dusk disappeared and thick grey smoke, heavy commuting traffic, and mad max territory emerged. We drove slowly down a pitted track, in the heavy gloom and stopped alongside a cluster of shacks.

My happy smiling daughter became quite still. The incredulity in her anxious eyes was clear: were we really taking these young kids back to a shack?

Five little people aged between four and eight scrambled out – aliens because of their terrible disfigurement in an already alien land. They ran off into the dark.

My child cried all the way home.

So what is there to say? It seems inconceivable that children are allowed to suffer so badly because of poverty, abuse and ignorance. Where was God when this was happening and why do these children still live in such inhumane circumstances?

And then there are people like Amanda, Steve and Simon – earth angels. Where do they come from? What gives them the will to do what they do? And where did Bronwen come from – the original founder of The Fire Children? I know she comes from a place I don’t come from. A better person by a million miles than I will or ever can be.

67 minutes the staff at Rebmormax was not 67 minutes. It was a lifetime.

We will continue to help them, give them administrative support and supplies. Perhaps some of my staff will have the courage to interact personally with the children again in the future.

I, however, will be beating down the doors of some of the CEO’s I am privileged to work with and elicit your financial support.

Please go to www.firechildren.org. Go on be brave, be bold – I dare you.


About Sam Deuchar

Sam Deuchar leads the Rebmormax team. She is a seasoned HR, talent and change management executive with extensive corporate and consulting experience across the finance, IT and construction industries. She provides consulting expertise specifically in talent acquisition and people strategy.