Teen Canadian Burn Survivors At The International Burn Camp In Taiwan!

By: Johanna Catsburg

My name is Johanna (Joho), I'm 15 and I got burnt 9 years ago. I'd like to tell you how I got burnt. My Mom was cooking potatoes and carrots in the microwave while she went to go give my brother a bath. I then heard the buzzer go off, and went to the kitchen to help. Opening the microwave and touching the bowl noticing it was hot, I took a cloth to hold the sides of the bowl instead of using my bare hands. As soon as I picked it up, the tupperware collapsed and boiling water spilt all over me, burning my left hand, thigh, and foot.


I was held in Sick Kids Hospital for around 2 weeks being treated for 2nd and 3rd degree burns, going back everyday for a month. Just recently I've came out of my "shell" so everyone says. I was always shy, but after I got burnt, I almost stopped talking in general. I got invited to a burn camp about 3 years later, and it was there I got to experience how these kids at camp were like me, and were going through the same things I do. There, I made some really great friendships, hanging on to them each year. I've been going to camp BUCKO (Burn Camp for Kids in Ontario) for 6 years now and loving every minute of it. The Camp had everything there, Canoeing, Kayaking, Swimming, Beach Volleyball, Biking, Arts and Crafts, but the thing that made me keep coming back the most, were the people there and all the friendships you end up making. Meeting all those new people made me so much more outgoing than I ever was.

Around the time when school was ending June '01, I got a call from one of the volunteers from camp BUCKO asking me if I'd like to go to another camp. This time to an International burn camp across the world, in Taiwan to be exact. Right away, I was excited and was trilled at the idea. They talked to my parents got everything straight I got interviewed by Steve Williams and I was off to Taiwan with 2 other girls from camp BUCKO. July 19, I was headed to the Toronto airport where I would board the plane with Courtney and Shannel. Already excited to see my friends we got on the plane and left for Edmonton. Arriving in Edmonton airport was Steve Williams (he was our main chaperone throughout the trip) already waiting there for us. We ended up staying in Edmonton for 2 days going to Klondike days, and staying up late talking, laughing, and watching movies. Next we were on another plane to Vancouver, to catch our next plane to Taiwan. A 14 hour ride, eating our first taste of the chineese food on the plane. Everyone was already really nice to us on the plane, we even tried talking to some of the stewardesses.


Flight To Taiwan

Once we arrived, stepping out of the plane, the air felt so humid, sticky and hot all at the same time. It felt just like stepping out of the shower when the mirrors fog up.

On the 14th of November, I decided to honor my mum's request. The responsibility of painting barrels has been mine since time immemorial. On that fateful day I had finished melting and mixing the coal tar with petrol which was a little less than a liter. I have taken it away from the fire and had left it to cool for an hour. Now the temperature was down and I didn't anticipate any unexpected contingencies. I had started painting and was almost halfway through the painting when suddenly and unexpectedly, I heard "whoop!" the coal-tar (Bitumen) which was not on fire and no where near the fire caught flames. Instantly I quickly redrew my hand and face but no matter how hard I tried luck seems to have run out of my side as I slipped and fell. Still desperate to escape unhurt, I struggled from the ground but as hard as I tried it all seemed fate and circumstances had all combined against me as my leg kicked the container with the coal-tar in the process and the whole content poured on my legs. Aaaah! What a pain it was. During this period it was as though time never existed. I felt as if I never existed. It was like the world never existed. Groaning with pain and terror, I managed and made my way to the tap which mercifully was flowing. At the tap I painfully extinguished the flames that had caught my shorts and the heated coal tar that stuck my pitiful flesh. I didn't know why but I tried to pray but as hard as I tried I couldn't. After a long struggle, "God have mercy" was all I could say.

Running from the spot of the accident to the tap was enough to cause damage to my already miserable skin. The chocolate layer of my inner thigh had peeled off leaving a horrifying white layer with greenish blood vessels and veins neatly woven right beneath the white layer around my thigh. It was an artistic masterpiece of God. Amazing wonderful nature of God was at it's best . It was a stunningly beautiful work of aesthetic art by the all-knowing eternal merciful father in Heaven. A blend of beauty and pity "God is wonderful". Even in the midst of this unfortunate devastating situation I found myself, I still gave credit to God because it was due. So I did pitifully but, without regret because I knew in the horrendous journey towards recovery I am going to need him for sustenance. I got frozen at the spot, I stood up with a feeling of trembling sensation in my knees. As I stood there trembling pitifully, the thought of a possibility that I may never be able to run again engulfed my mind. I had big dreams. Dreams of growing up to like Donovan Bailey, Maurice Green, Michael Johnson and Frank Fredrick. My grandmother had also predicted before her death that I was going to be an outstanding athlete when I grow. My late grandmother's prediction and wish was on course of coming to light and her soul would have had a perfect, sound and everlasting peace. But how? How am I to make it all happen? Rage and frustration blurred my vision. My heart was filled with hate for life, because without athletics there was no life for me. As I stood there trembling like an injured bird, I felt an agony of pain in my heart. It was so painful that I shut my eyes; I gulped with hurt and disappointment as agony of despair begun to fill my entire body.

When I came back to myself, or when I was restored to the land of the living from the wonderland, or which ever it was, I found myself surrounded by neighbors ready to help me. While many assisted, others stared at me in shock and fear. The mood of the atmosphere had changed into a pitiful outlook. By this time, my world was shading down into darkness. The good neighbors of mine tried to help me by cutting the remains of my jeans shorts with a pair of scissors. At this moment in time, there seems to be fire burning in my throat which was spreading very fast through to my chest. I was getting terrified I will die as a result of shortage of fluid in my system as my legs were discharging some colorless fluid. A bottle of iced water was made available Personally, coming from Canada, I was happy about the hot temperature, our summers are even cold. Anyways, we gathered our belongings and took a bus to downtown Taipei, where we stayed in a hotel room. The 1st night there, we went to a real Chinese food restaurant with some other Canadian Burn survivors. Right off the bat all 3 of us girls became friends with Nigel and Colin, 2 boys from Alberta. We ate at the Chinese food restaurant with them, except in Taiwan they just call it food. It was really amazing to see how different the Chinese food in Taiwan was from our americanized Chinese food. They didn't even know what chicken balls were. We ate everyday with chopsticks, and by the end of the week I was a pro at eating food with those "wooden forks". For the next 3 days we went all downtown Taipei, trying to visit everything possible. We went to the night market, where they shop and sell on the streets late at night. Their stands are open 9PM-3AM, where they sell everything from clothing to food that I've never even seen before. It was so funny how every time we'd go by a food stand we'd have to plug our noses. I guess we just weren't used to those type of smells. We also went to a museum an amusement park and sight seeing on the mountains while we were there and had a blast. Another thing which is totally different we got to try out in the museum. Their toilet, which us girls call "squatters" are upside down urinals on the floor. Just by the name we used I think you can imagine what we had to do.


The last night there in Taipei, Courtney, Shannel and I got dressed up really nice in our wraps given to us by Steve. I did Courtney and Shannel's hair as for mine, and we went to a Chinese buffet with our chaperone's and friends. The buffet was fun, you go choose all the food you want, then once you've gotten everything, you go to a window of 4 chefs. These chefs put your food on these huge frying tables where they cook, toss and chop your food. We had a great night there.

The next day we were off to the burn camp South of Taipei in our little tour bus. Once there, we got set up in our groups, and set up our stuff in our tents. It was so hot we didn't even need to use sheets to sleep in, but just slept on top of them. It was actually just like sleeping in a warm blanket. That night we met a translator his name being "Happy", (yes I know that's funny) he helped us talk to the people we were staying with and trying to get to know them better. They got to know our likes/dislikes and found out that Courtney and I liked to dance, snowboard, play volleyball...etc. Stuff they didn't actually have a chance to do much of. I found it weird the girls my age didn't know how to dance. So Crazy Courtney and I, tried to teach them. lol We had fun doing it too.

Every night before going to bed, we stayed up playing cards with the other Taiwanese girls and boys, telling jokes and just having a fun time. We went to the coolest water park I've been to before. A water maze, a huge water bed thing you jump on, a space ship with dangling rubber skipping ropes tied to the top while raining inside. It was just fun altogether. That day I got a really bad sun burn because the water washed off all my sunscreen. Everyone went on a cruise around the Island, sight seeing and saw hundreds of dolphins. Sadly, I was already bus sick from the bumpy roads I missed the dolphins my favorite animal and went back to the camp instead. While back at the camp this little Chinese girl stayed with me, and made me laugh. She called the guy translating for her a pig and whatnot. She was way too cute and made me laugh. We played with a pet squirrel they had and it went running all over the place, even up my arm.

Then the next day Courtney, Nigel, Colin and I went hiking with the rest of the group where it felt like we were hiking Mount Everest, without the factor of it being cold, but exhaustingly hot and humid. This 4 hour hike seemed like it went forever and the Canadian kids only went half way too! The other people kept going to the top of the biggest mountain. I thought where we were was high enough, we could see all the other hundreds of mountains and surroundings. That was beautiful enough for me. We got back to see Shannel where she had an easy day of swimming (she got off the hook because she had problems with her foot). Exhausted, we went to the beach 15 minutes away walking once again where I've never been so happy to rest. The ocean was so beautiful, and the water was of perfect temperature just enough to cool off but stay warm. We played some beach volleyball (which I love) Canadians against team China. They beat us at 1st, but we got them the 2nd game. We went back to the camp where all these kids were playing a body painting game. Paper, Rock, Scissors, the loser would get painted on, and by the end of the night I was covered by poster paint. All the kids were just too cute.

With Taiwan Burn Survivors

The last night we were there, they were having an Air Bands concert thing, where each group goes up and does a little skit or a song. Steve thought it would be a good idea if we sang "All or Nothing" by O-Town and all 5 of us thought it was perfect. I noticed Nigel and Colin liked singing already, so we could make a little band up. So the 2 guys, Courtney, Shannel and I, practiced it non-stop before the show, and we were the last act to go up. We did it, we sang up in front of everyone and they stood up and cheered! I was so happy, and I'll never forget that one. That night we got "treats" from Happy our translator friend. He gave us a bean popsicle which I call "beansicles" and this drink I thought tasted like hand lotion which was Asparagus juice. I don't know how they like it but that's good for them. Anyways, the next morning, we had to leave, we didn't get much time for goodbyes, but gave everyone hugs and left. It was so sad, because I'll probably never get a chance like that again to see those people. Everyone was sad and tired that day and we were back on a plane to Vancouver, then to Edmonton where we stayed the night at a chaperone's house. The next morning we left for Toronto saying our goodbyes once again, but saying by to my girls! "Charlie's Angels" we were named, I'm Cameron Diaz because of the butt dancing, Shannel is Lucy Liu because of something she says in the movie is exactly like her, and Courtney is Drew Barrymore because of her lovableness! Steve our main chaperone was and is Charlie. Ok and about the food there, don't go to China thinking that you'll like Chinese food, because they have REAL Chinese food and it is completely different from what we know. I mean I tried everything, because I wanted to try new things but most of it is just sick! Here's some things I tried: yellow Water Melon (tastes exactly the same)Sushi(never tried it before that, and it was good), Cooked Pork's Blood, Eel, Cat (I swear it was cat this one time in my "chicken burger").

Anyways, I hope this gave everyone a little knowledge what I got to experience about burn camps. It really is a great thing, and if you haven't gotten to go to one, I suggest you do, because you'll remember it for the rest of your life. It doesn't have to be across the world to experience something like this. I made the best friends no matter what burn camp I was at. Everyone was and are really nice, and they know exactly what your going through. It's not a matter of forgetting that your burnt when your at camp, it's to know that it doesn't make you any different from other people, and that you can have a good time being yourself, it's all on the inside!

Well anyways, I hope you had a good time reading! If you want to talk to me more join the BSTTW Teen Elist. I'd love to hear from anybody! Peace Outtie!