Viwe’s Voice: A Story of Resilience and Hope Amidst Tragedy

A heart wrenching visit to a tertiary public health burns care facility in Cape Town, South Africa leaves one with a compelling feeling of wanting to do more to stop preventable injuries affecting our children. This is a story of a 3-year-old African boy who recently got caught in the flames of shack fire and is at the start of his recovery journey. We call him Viwe, translated from isiXhosa to English means “To be heard”.

According to Viwe’s mother, she had left their dwelling briefly for a short visit to the shop on the corner. When she returned home, she found their shack engulfed in flames, with her children still inside. Viwe was discovered on the burning bed, his small body bearing moderate to severe burns covering more than 30% of his skin. Tragically, his sibling did not survive the fire. All their belongings were destroyed in the inferno. All their belongings—memories, dreams, and innocence—reduced to ashes.

Viwe’s mother sat by his side, her eyes hollow, her spirit broken. She had returned from a routine errand to find their modest shack ablaze—one that had stolen her child’s innocence and left scars that would last a lifetime. And there, on the bed, lay Viwe. His small body bore the scars of a battle fought and lost.

His small hands clenched the edges of a toy car—a feeble distraction from the agony. The burns, angry and red, were swathed in sterile dressings and bandages. Each movement he makes sent shockwaves through his fragile body, but he didn’t cry. Instead, he whimpered—a protest of a soul pushed to its limits.

In that hospital ward, Viwe became a symbol—a testament to resilience and the human spirit. ChildSafe South Africa shines a light on the dedication and care provided by specialists, nurses, orderlies, and support staff. Their tireless efforts bring healing and hope to every child they touch. His name, “Viwe,” resonates with purpose. It means “To be heard.” And so, we listened. We listened to the silent cries of burn survivors, to the stories etched into scar tissue, and to the urgent plea for prevention.

Viwe’s journey toward recovery is a testament to resilience and hope. As a community, we must work together to prevent such tragedies and protect our children from the devastating effects of burns. Viwe’s name, meaning “To be heard,” reminds us that every child’s safety matters, and their voices deserve our attention and action.

Viwe is currently in the process of recovery and rehabilitation. His name is a pseudonym used to protect his identity and privacy in keeping with the appropriate ethics and respective privacy laws.

Burns remain a leading cause of injury and death in children globally and the fourth leading cause of death and injury in children in South Africa.