by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
Every year over seven million children suffer from burn injuries in South America, due in part to the widespread use of open fires for cooking. After joining the Rotary Club of Washington, DC in 2006, Mark Wilson joined with his wife a Rotary exchange program to Santiago, Chile. There he visited the COANIQUEM nonprofit center for burned children that was partially funded through a Rotary 3H grant. Impressed by the quality of their work, he became an active supporter, ultimately joining the center’s Board of Directors a few years ago.
COANIQUEM treats burned children for free. Treatment proceeds in four steps. The first part of the treatment focuses on the physical aspect of healing which includes plastic surgery, scar compression, and rehabilitation. The second part focuses on physiological damage, with psychologists and occupational therapists helping the child as well as their family. The third part is dedicated to education during the period when the child is receiving treatment, so that when they reenter school, they do not fall behind. The last part of the four step treatment plan is the provision of spiritual support to the child so that she/he can overcome all her scars, whether internal or external, and as a result become a stronger person. This is also important for parents who feel a great sense of guilt over these accidents. The average age of the children when they first come into the hospital is six, which means that the serious cases will need regular care for anther ten to twelve years until they stop growing.
COANIQUEM has three facilities to treat burned children mainly from Chile, but also from around Latin America. The Center also trains medical professionals on burn prevention and provides training literature. The cost of treatment per child with serious burns is typically around $1000 per year, of which $700 is for medical treatment and $300 for therapeutic treatment. Over the years Mark and the Washington DC Rotary club have helped secure $340,000 in funding for COANIQUEM’s activities.
When asked about the rewards of working on this project, Mark explained that “the children themselves are amazingly resilient and it makes you feel humbled when you are in the presence of kids who have been disfigured, and yet are cheery and happy around their doctors… It makes you appreciate what you have in your own life and it’s about time we all start to give something back” . When asked about the obstacles he has faced, his demeanor changed as he shared that “fundamentally it’s the frustration of not being able to do as much as you would like…the frustration is of wanting to do much more, to be able to generate the resources and the money to help COANIQUEM treat more kids”. Mark’s advice to Rotarians is that there are many forms of service. Just find one area that you are passionate about, and then you can step by step start to change the world.
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).