Updated report courtesy of "Mitta
Local resident Bronwen Jones
(58) has been awarded the British Empire Medal
in the New Year’s Honours List
Jones has helped Africa’s child burns survivors for the past 20 years. She has rescued terribly-injured infants from the Congo; helped children set alight by soldiers in countries at war and loved a half-starved Zimbabwean toddler back to life.
Jones says that each child is unique; each one’s story could make a book of their own. They have all survived against the odds – surviving torture by other children or surviving brutality at the hands of those that they should trust the most – their own parents.
Jones is as proud of her brood as a mother hen. Some of the children that she has helped are now parents themselves. One is a candidate attorney and won gold at the Paralympics; others in Tunisia, Kenya and South Africa are on track to become doctors. Some are bakers or caterers, one is a plumber.
Somehow they almost all still stay in touch with each other. “The Internet is a wonderful thing,” she smiles.
And for those who have volunteered or interned at Children of Fire, the charity that she founded, their successes feel like her successes as they too have survived the excellence-demanding no-mountain-too-high environment that she creates.
Jones chuckles: “Mountain climbing was a by-product of a chance remark. These ideas sit like seeds in my mind until they grow into action.”
The children who climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 2007 starred in a documentary alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself a burns survivor. Other burned children climbed Mt Cameroon in 2011. They were led up the West African peak by Lambeth-born Tristan Jones (24), Jones’ biological son and incidentally South Africa’s youngest fire fighter at the age of 16, the same year that he was the youngest-ever legal intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Jones says: I’m proud of volunteers or interns like Dr Marietta Neumann (in Durban), teacher par excellence Lindiwe Ngwenya (in Katlehong), Dr Gaynor Grace (in Cape Town), marine biologist Amelia Tandy (in Adelaide), social worker manager and burns survivor Mitta Lebaka (in Dobsonville), lawyer Achieng Kola (in Nairobi) and so many more. I could not have done what I’ve done without the involvement of these powerful youngsters and others too many to name or number.
The thing about Children of Fire though, is that it never gets easier. And there is no simple uncomplicated day. “Some days I feel so tired I imagine I’ll keel over – and then something happens and exhaustion is not an option. The phone rings and it’s Alice in the squatter camp [shanty town] telling me that their homes are burning again…”
“It can be 3am but one has to wake up, get dressed one-handed with the phone in the other hand, imploring the emergency services to respond.”
That was 6th December 2015 when the Joe Slovo squatter camp in Crosby was ablaze again. Jones attended the fire, monitored the efficacy of the fire fighters and brought a little girl Njabulo (5) home for a week as her shack was rebuilt. In the meantime she delivered the red Disaster Recovery bags that she pioneered, her own windows and two beds that once belonged to a Baroness, to help the community to get back on track again.
Jones says: “I am in awe of the stoicism of South Africa’s poor. Their lives are literally burned to ashes in front of them and somehow they gather the embers of energy left, to start all over again. I know families who have lost everything they owned three times in three years, and yet there are days when they still manage to smile.”
She adds: “If I was to give awards, I’d award my brave burned children, each and every one. I’d honour them for the courage to survive the flames, the pain, the lifetime of stares.”
“I appreciate the honour of the British Empire Medal. To be recognised by my home country for trying to do good elsewhere in the Commonwealth and beyond, is high praise indeed.”
“I have a foot very firmly in both southern and northern hemispheres; I hope that helps me to bridge at least the medical divide so that I can continue to repair shattered lives and shape citizens of the future. It’s just Ubuntu* in Action.”
Jones lives part of her year in London with her two adopted children, burns survivors Dorah (21) and Sizwe (14). Her son Tristan has just obtained his second degree, an LLB and is looking for a job. Jones is looking forward to a celebratory concert after her larger group of burned children complete a musical workshop with British Corps of Army Musicians’ Shaun James. [It will be the second time that the Putney-based saxophonist has engaged with these children in Africa…. Jones met his colleagues on a plane when one soldier fainted and from the briefest of encounters a friendship was forged…]
*Ubuntu is an African concept echoed in many cultures, of us all being interdependent and not succeeding without each other
Children of Fire
A video of our children http://youtu.be/qe9At1kWh08