ABC Challenge 2012: Changing Lives for the Better

Challenge. What does this word mean to you?

A call to fight? A summons to engage in a contest of skill or strength?

Could it be a demanding and stimulating journey, tackling tough terrain alongside courageous and like-minded folk, in order to change the lives of child burns victims?

Yes? Such a feat was accomplished by 20 participants in October last year when they took part in the ABC (Action for Burns and Children) Challenge 2011.

4 members of the Cripps Sears team were amongst the ‘Challengers’ whose collective aim was to raise critical funds for the Phoenix Burns Project in South Africa, a charity which helps vulnerable children who have fallen prey to the horrors of fire and supports them in dealing with the physical and psychological effects their injuries can have on them.

ABC Challenge 2012 – looking forwards

This year, ABC are planning another challenge raising yet more funds to support the continued work of the Phoenix Burns Project. This time the Hikers and Bikers will both complete the challenge at the southern most point of Africa. We want the 2012 event to be bigger and better than ever, including surpassing our fantastic fundraising total of £20,000 in 2011!

ABC Challenge 2011 – a reflection by Laura (PA at Cripps Sears and ABC Challenge ‘Hiker’ in 2011)

Participants challenged themselves by either trekking across the Cederberg Mountains 200 km north of Cape Town or Biking from the Tzitikamma National Park to the same destination; the latter being the longer, but both were exhausting tasks. A real eclectic mix of people of all ages joined us on the challenge; new friendships were formed and many lasting memories were made. Everyone united in the face of the challenge and felt the same sense of shared responsibility to finish; the support from the group ensured everyone reached their goal. The Hikers battled through 80km worth of blisters, the Bikers, over 400km worth of saddle-sores, to return triumphant and elated. The days were long, and the going was extremely tough in places, but the jaw-dropping scenery of the South African countryside was a welcome distraction from all the pain. The Cederberg is a pristine wilderness and we barely saw another soul whilst trekking and climbing across the mountains. The abundant wildlife, imposing rock formations, waterfalls and learning about South African culture made for an experience I will never forget.

Through stories and emails, as well as my own personal experience, I know that this type of challenge has the power to change your life. I chose to Trek across the Cederberg, knowing full well it would not be an easy mission but the pathway to success was fraught with difficulties.

To begin with months before the challenge, each person first had to commit themselves, which was a daunting prospect in itself. It was essential we had the ability to motivate ourselves, to have enough self-control and will-power to master the time management necessary for fundraising events and training to an appropriate level of physical fitness. Next, relying on our creativity and perseverance, we had to execute our fundraising and training plans, starting at least 8 months prior to departure. Many of us needed to organize and take part in a variety of events to raise a significant amount of sponsorship money. Cake sales, tennis tournaments, parties, quizzes, car boot sales etc. can take weeks of preparation, as one always needs the help of friends and family to make each event a success; support is key to fundraising. Finally, the biggest challenge of all – the event itself. The physical exertion, endurance and constant pain over the six-day period were tough. However, look at what we accomplished. Each participant that completed the challenge, finished in a buzz of triumph and satisfaction. What an exhilarating experience! We not only created life-long memories but also took part in a life-changing experience, helping to make a difference in the lives of so many children in Africa. Children suffering from burns and the physical and mental trauma that comes from the interminable problems associated with; preventable fires and accidents involving hot water, paraffin and other harmful objects. To succeed meant more than just reaching the finishing line; this was not only a personal challenge for us but also a way to change vulnerable children’s lives for the better.

Of course, the most eye-opening and perhaps life-altering moment didn’t come until we completed the challenge. Any moans we had about sore muscles, blisters, twisted ankles, the heat etc, paled into insignificance when we visited the Children’s Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Cape Town on our penultimate day. What right did we have to complain? Up until then I think we were, quite rightly, feeling a little pleased with ourselves. Overcoming an arduous challenge and raising money for charity inevitably makes one feel a little smug. However, on entering the Hospital’s Burns Unit we were immediately brought back down to earth, seeing firsthand the children we were trying to help.

Over 1200 patients were treated at the Burns Unit last year. Statistics show, that the highest rates of fire-related burn mortality are experienced in the most populous and deprived regions of the world, namely Africa & South East Asia, with over half of these fire-related deaths occurring among children and young adults. Unfortunately, burns are also still the most common cause of death of the “under twos” in urban South Africa. We heard more stories from the doctor on duty, Roux Martinez. Many of the young burn victims feel they must live the rest of their lives isolated and alone, too afraid to go out for fear of bullying and alienation. Their disfigurements prevent them from having a normal childhood. This is why we started the charity, ABC. The money we raise goes to support the Phoenix Burns project to rehabilitate and counsel such victims. I had underestimated the severity of the problem. When I saw the children that day, coping with their atrocious injuries, faces and bodies covered in bandages, I knew the challenge had only just begun. There is still so much more to be done.

As we distributed teddy bears to the ward, it was so humbling to see the children’s brave attempts at smiles in the face of such adversity. I think this is what moved me most, the strength of character of the victims’ families and most of all, the children, displayed in their unrelenting ability to be cheerful and make jokes. Veering away from materialism, being able to appreciate the simple things and learning not to take them or people for granted, are habits we should all adopt. In our sheltered western worlds we can’t always see the extent of the pain some people have to endure on a daily basis. Many of us have been through traumatic experiences, but our levels of technology and standard of living, for the most part, are not at all bad. Most have at least clean running water and a roof over their heads, with electricity and standard regulated cooking equipment. Every day we see the problems happening all over the world in the media but it’s not until you are there and communicating with the people affected, that you start to realise the real issues these people face every day. Being in the privileged position of having the freedom to view life differently in light of such situations, helps enormously in becoming more content in life.

Through the process of wanting to help change these children’s lives for the better, we recognised that this journey had changed us for the better too. We had made a difference through our fundraising achievements, but we now had many new friends, muscles we never knew we had and an amazing time doing it all. Our own pains melted away with those children’s smiles and we were all soon talking about what we would be doing next year to help. There is always something more you can do. We need life-altering experiences like this to encourage more people to do the same. In opening our eyes and changing our own lives, we can evoke change in the lives of others.

As mentioned earlier, ABC (Action for Burns and Children) are planning another challenge for 2012. I hope I’ve given you more than enough reasons to convince you to join us. If not, then please think about these final few words from Aristotle; you really do: “get out what you put in”. So get out there, put in some effort and join us for what will surely be another life-changing and rewarding challenge.