South Africa — Climbing a mountain would be an achievement for any teenager. But for 13-year-old Doreen Msimanga, whose feet were disfigured by a veld fire as a toddler, reaching the top of Mount Cameroon was an extra special day. She was part of a group of 17 burn survivors who climbed the highest peak in West Africa, a 4 040m active volcano in Cameroon.
Burns charity Children of Fire organised the expedition as a way of building confidence and team spirit in the emotionally and physically scarred youngsters.
On its return, the group was given a heroes’ welcome at Moyo Zoo Lake, where each member received a certificate from Albert Fotabong, the deputy high commissioner of the Cameroon High Commission in Pretoria. “You are all champions,” he told them.
Although some of the younger climbers did not reach the summit, Msimanga said she never doubted she would get to the top. “I believed I could do it, and it felt so good when I reached the top.” The Grade 7 pupil from Harrismith enjoyed her experience and would like to continue hiking.
Nsizwa Vilakazi (19) from Mpumalanga also reached the summit. “I’m very proud of myself – I never climbed a mountain before. The experience taught me that life is about decisions and patience.” He will concentrate on matric this year, and aims to study graphic design at university.
The children were accompanied by Wits student and paramedic Tristan Jones, Children of Fire’s Michael Wessels, and Pietermaritzburg firefighter Vusi Shabalala. Shabalala said he was touched by the burn survivors’ stories and wanted to lend his support to the cause.