I was just your average teenager trying to get my service-learning hours finished up. Then I volunteered at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Centers Burn Survivor Reunion in October.
My job was to interview burn survivors and family members and create videos for the Burn Center’s website and Facebook page. The experience changed me from just wanting to get my hour requirements to honestly caring about the Burn Center and the people it serves.
At the reunion, they had an open mic where anyone could go up and say whatever they wanted to. Many of the survivors told stories of their families not wanting to talk to them or even look at them because of their burns. It broke my heart because I couldn’t imagine going through something like that alone. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who are just getting burned and won’t have that support.
My broken heart was mended when I started the interviews. I saw the love and compassion in the eyes of a wife whose husband had been burned. She looked at him with such admiration and acceptance. To see how that affected him was moving. You could see the same difference made from the support and acceptance by care-givers, Burn Center staff, and even volunteers like me.
Feel the love
After the reunion, I had the honor of touring the burn unit.
I could feel the love between the Burn Center staff and the patients. It was amazing to see that after hearing the stories of the people whose families don’t interact with them anymore because of their burns. I realized the burn unit became their family and a support group, which to me is extraordinary. I saw that for the Burn Center team it is about healing the physical burn and healing the emotional scars that come with this life-changing event.
These experiences made me want to give that kind of support and acceptance to burn survivors, and to do whatever I can to help the Burn Center and its patients.
I have seen both sides; one side where the experience of getting burned was something to be ashamed of and the other having this great support system where getting burned was something that made a person stronger. I want to be the bridge that leads from one experience to the other.
Club next year
This is just the starting point. I hope to start a club next year at Chapel Hill High School that raises funds, sends cards to patients, volunteers at the Burn Center, and collects socks and other supplies. I understand if some people can’t handle being face-to-face with someone who has a severe burn. This club will give people an opportunity to help whether they’re comfortable being around burn survivors or not.
Ultimately, I hope to change the perception of people who have burns, because we are all human and anything can happen to anyone. We can all start by treating burn survivors like actual human beings. A smile and a look in the eyes aren’t hard to do and make a huge difference to someone who feels judged or ignored.
So go make a burn survivor’s day by doing this simple task. No one should be socially punished for something that makes them unique.
Adela Mann of Carrboro is a sophomore at Chapel Hill High School. To learn more about the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center, visit the center on Facebook or on the web at med.unc.edu/burn.