Members of the Avela Foundation who trekked for charity Picture: Supplied

Durban - A total of  R1.8 million was raised recently for South African children affected by fires. The project was initiated by the  Avela Foundation that helps children with serious burn injuries on their emotional and physical road to recovery.

The nine day day trekking route began at an elevation of around 2,840 metres at Lukla, Nepal on May 2 and ended  in triumph at 5,364 metres, at the base of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain in the world on May 9.

Avela Foundation founder, Cami Palomo said all their hard work and preparation paid off. “The efforts by this group of determined people prior and during our trek resulted in Avela raising nearly R1.85million on donations –based crowdfunding platform, BackaBuddy. The funds generated by the campaign will be used to kick-start our U-Matter programme and help refurbish the Kimberley Hospital’s burn unit”, Palomo said.

U-Matter is a psychological support network for burn survivors and their families.

Team member, Lanie van said it was a remarkable, yet challenging climb.

“A few days in we reached the ‘above the trees’ part of the mountains. It is then when every member of our team had to confront our bodies’ reaction to altitude. It affects people in varying degrees and you are unprepared for the first onset – a vice-grip headache, nausea, sluggishness, sleeplessness and a lack of appetite. We had to dig very deep to find that strength within ourselves in an effort to continue. Failure was not an option as were embarked on this journey not for ourselves, but for the thousands of South African children who are in such desperate need of burn care,” she said.

She described the welcoming tea houses where their weary bodies could rest every day, the sense of wonder with the first glimpse of the highest mountain in the world and the team’s joy and pride upon reaching their goal.

“We were on top of the world!” she said.

Van Reenen added that completing the expedition was also a personal achievement for every single member of the group - ordinary people that decided to embark on an extraordinary adventure for a noble cause.

Among the hikers, the Head of the Avela Mentorship Programme, William Baartman, who at age of three-years-old, was a victim of gross Human Rights violation when his home was petrol bombed by local students. He sustained 75% burn wounds and lost his younger sister, Grace in the fire.

“When I met William Baartman in 2015, he was a timid, soft-spoken man that barely looked me in the eye when we spoke. William’s story is not of self-pity and hate; it is of triumph, courage and positivity and that touched my soul and didn’t let go. He has become a brother to me over these years and has blossomed into a leader and healer and is changing the lives of the children who are burn survivors every day,” said Lindiwe Suttle, of the Avela Foundation.

“I was too afraid to leave the house because I was scared of what others might think and now I have climbed to Mount Everest base camp ! I hope to send a message to those hiding from the world, that there’s hope for them, hope they think doesn’t exist,” William said.

The triumphant team may be back in their comfortable homes after having to endure true hardship but that is not where it ends.

“We have raised the funds and have come together as a team; we have collected memories that will last a lifetime and we have formed solid friendships. That is however only the beginning. The hard work will now truly start,” Palomo said.

It is estimated that 3.2% of the South African population annually sustains serious burn injuries and an astonishing 68% percent of South African children younger than 14 have experienced scalding burns in their short lifetime.

“We provide hope to those kids who are in desperate need of physical as well as emotional care after having suffered life- threatening or debilitating burn injuries”,  Palomo said.

She added that the physical pain of a burn is horrific, but the worry, fear, and emotional pain it causes to survivors and their families can be just as difficult.

“Emotional support is crucial for recovery. By providing the right psychological support to burns survivors and their families, burn survivors will become an asset not a liability to our society,” she said.

The Mercury