The Independent London Newspaper
25th March 2017

Walk a mile in their shoes: the remarkable children living with horrific fire burns

    Bronwen Jones with her family – Dorah is sitting on her lap with little Perlucia

    Bronwen Jones with her family – Dorah is sitting on her lap with little Perlucia next to her. 

    Published: 20 August, 2015
    by JOHN GULLIVER

    SQUEALS and laughter filled one of our offices the other day as a little seven-year-old girl ran amok, bringing smiles even to our doughtiest accounts clerk.

    The cause of joy was Perlucia, whose face has been so badly burned that she can only sleep with her eyes open. She cannot close them.

    Her nightmare began before she could walk or talk.

    She owes her development and self-confidence to a woman who is devoting her life to rescuing children severely burnt in Africa and helping them with treatment – often involving the most complex of operations carried out by top plastic surgeons.

    Here is where Bronwen Jones faces her sternest task – how to raise the tens of thousands of pounds needed to cover the cost of this intricate medical care.

    Bronwen Jones has devoted her life to the 'children of fire'

    Naturally, she has turned for help to the medical profession in South Africa where she lives but because the health service there is under great pressure and is – in her opinion less than it should be – she takes most of her burned children to England. And also, to my surprise, to Tunisia.

    We think of Tunisia as a tourist spot – a country where terrorists struck murderously a few weeks ago.

    But Tunisian surgeons are among the best, Bronwen tells me.

    She speaks admiringly of a surgeon who performed miracles of reconstruction with a burned Sudanese boy called Amen Allah Messadi.

    Now Bronwen, who lived at one time in Belsize Park and worked as a journalist on The Observer, is back in London organising a 13-mile walk around the well-known stops of the Monopoly Board aimed to take place on September 12.

    She came – unannounced – to my office accompanied by her “family” all of whom had been driven from Euston fire station by one of her fans, a fireman, like so many, with a big heart.

    The children sat on a settee – awkward, one or two shifting nervously a little side to side, another more confident, staring me fully in the face with a kind searching look.

    Then, into focus, came the face of young woman called Dorah who could not stand or sit still or make recognisable sounds – to me, that is.

    Suddenly, I realised that Bronwen had brought her to me many years ago when Dora was six or seven and I was able then to pick her up, this bundle of life, needing comfort and kind words.

    In fact, I, along with a colleague, took her to meet the then London deputy mayor as well as a senior class at Camden Girls School, all to help publicise the efforts of Bronwen Jones and, hopefully, raise money for what is an extraordinary great cause.

    Who will help these children to lead a life that is as normal as is possible?

    Dorah, now in her early 20s, lives in a large house in Pinner bought by Bronwen Jones as a base in the capital where her wards can be best helped. As for the little girl who had captivated our office staff, Perlucia, she is waiting for an operation that sounds so small and far from life changing that it takes a few minutes to understand that that is exactly what it is.

    Perlucia at the New Journal's offices: she is set to have an operation within the next few weeks

    It involves micro-surgery which will join her fire-shortened index finger onto her fire-shortened thumb simply to enable her to have a left-hand capable of a grip. Yes, Perlucia because of her handicaps cannot grip things – if you can imagine what that means – and, if all goes well in the next few weeks, will be able to pick up things with her left hand. She can use here right hand a little more efficiently. You and I do that so normally that it is hard to imagine what it means not to be able to do it.

    Dorah had a similar operation a month ago at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, which allows her to independently perform her ablutions for the first time in her life.

    Yes, it is in these seemingly small ways that lives can be transformed.

    I am urging readers to help Bronwen raise money for these children who, in effect, have been abandoned by society in South Africa, driving her to come to these shores for medical help,

    Often, our surgeons will perform these operations free of charge but the operating theatre staff and after care have to be paid for.

    And this is where you can come in.

    The Monopoly Board walk, nicknamed Moonwalk, will set off at 10am on September 12 from Elephant and Castle and walkers should take a “selfie” at each spot to prove they have been there. Times is not an issue. The walk will go on as long as it takes the slowest person to complete.

    Among those who will help on the day are the London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson and firemen and fire cadets.

    • For details of the fundraising Monopoly Board Walk on September 12, email firechildrenuk@btinternet.com or call 020 8868 2967. To donate, go to www.justgiving.com/teams/Monopolymoonwalkers2015

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