'Sizwe could be a singing chef'

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The laughter of children and the splashing of water from a crystal blue swimming pool fills the garden of an Auckland Park, Johannesburg, home.

A timid boy walks out and changes into shorts and a blue T-shirt with "Johannesburg School for the Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disabilities" inscribed on it.

Eight-year-old Sizwe is neither disabled nor blind. A scar on the left side of his face sets him apart from other children.

It is a badge he carries proudly, signalling his triumph from debilitating circumstances.

Born in KwaZulu-Natal, he survived severe burns to his face and body inflicted by his own parents when he was still a baby.

Sizwe wishes to return to the province - this time to fulfil his dream of being part of the prestigious Drakensberg Boys Choir School.

Set in the idyllic Champagne Valley, the school has nurtured the talents of gifted musicians such as the Bala brothers - Zwai, Loyiso and Phelo.

But the school holds more allure for the restless Grade 2 pupil.

"My mom told me there are real dragons in the Drakensberg. I want to move there so I can see them and sing," he says.

He takes extra singing lessons on Saturdays to prepare for his studies at the prestigious school.

"When I do well at singing lessons my teachers give me sweets," he says between mouthfuls of heart-shaped chocolates.

A teacher at Sizwe's school, Barbara Lechner, says he is always singing.

"All the children love to sing but he always sings louder than the others," says Lechner.

After much cajoling, he reluctantly sings songs from school, preferring to talk about his other love - cooking. His speech is peppered with flavoursome things such as "ratatouille, goulash and Austrian food".

"I like cooking with green, red and yellow peppers and chopping onions, though they make me cry," says Sizwe.

His mother and director of Children of Fire, Bronwen Jones, believes that Sizwe should be encouraged to do what he loves.

"There's no reason he can't sing and cook. He could be South Africa's singing chef," says Jones.

She says the opportunity to attend the Drakensberg Boys Choir School would afford Sizwe a great opportunity to travel and would be a "life changing experience".

Jones founded Children of Fire to help child survivors of burn injuries. The organisation helps arrange for their reconstructive surgery.

Sizwe is one of the few lucky children. He has had at least nine operations to correct his burn injuries.

Tristan Jones, Bronwen's son and a volunteer at the home, says many children who have survived fires do not have access to reconstructive surgery.

Children of Fire estimates that 15000 children suffer serious burns every year in South Africa.

"These children require hospital treatment and mostly benefit from reconstructive surgery, therapy or both. A large percentage will not get reconstructive surgery," says Tristan.

He says the intricacies of reconstructive surgery make it inaccessible to children who need it most.

Those who go through the initial phase of surgery are often "lost to follow up".

"No one checks that the child comes back for the next stage of treatment," added Tristan.