Soweto mom to tackle Kilimanjaro for SA children with burns

A mother from Soweto will be honouring her two boys when she embarks on the Avela Foundation's attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro in June.

Tebogo Tsotetsi, whose one son, Kutlwano, was killed during a house fire in 2014, is part of the 12-member team departing to Tanzania on June 16 to raise funds for the purchase of a laser machine for the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof, Johannesburg.

Kutlwano Tsotetsi was three when the fire broke out upon the family's return from church. A faulty plug was responsible for the tragedy that claimed little Kutlwano's life and left his brother Molemo, who was five at the time, with 50% burns across his body. Molemo, who loves cartoons and any form of car racing games, is still receiving regular laser treatments at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town. The travelling costs are substantial for the Tsotetsi family, hence Avela Foundation's quest to raise funds for a second laser machine closer to home.

Cape Town too far for treatment 

Cami Palomo, Avela Foundation founder and expedition leader says the first laser machine they managed to acquire for the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in collaboration with Smile Foundation, is very effective in reducing the appearance of scars.

"For many parents across South Africa, travelling to Cape Town is not an option due to the costs involved. We need to avail this equipment elsewhere too in order to ensure that children with serious burn injuries have access to the latest treatment technology. The machine changes lives by helping to restore the confidence of children with scars from burn wounds," says Palomo.

She adds that having people like Tebogo join their efforts to raise funds for a second laser machine is testament to the human spirit. "This is a mother who has suffered an unspeakable loss but who has remained strong for little Molemo who has endured not only the loss of his little brother but also intense physical and emotional pain."

Palomo, originally from El Salvador, is passionate when she speaks about her foundation.

"It's built on inspiration. That is the heart of what we do, and people like Tebogo and her son Molemo are the reason we literally climb mountains to make a difference."

Raised more than R2m

Team Avela's Everest Base Camp expedition last year raised more than R2m for the refurbishment of the Kimberley hospital's burn ward. "Tebogo is going to extraordinary lengths to raise funds for the laser machine. She has, among others, organised the Sing Out, Raise Hope Heart of Worship gospel benefit concert taking place at the Grace Bible Church in Longdale, Johannesburg on May 3."

"I'm so grateful that our paths crossed with Cami's (Palomo)," says Tsotetsi. "She is such a blessing in our lives. Since we have met Cami our lives have truly changed for the better. Cami and her foundation have helped us see our potential and she has also taught us that Molemo is not a victim but a true survivor.

Tsotetsi says she is now in a position to help other mothers who are in the same position by means of the U-Matter project.

Palomo's dreams for her foundation are big. "I want to continue raising funds and awareness for the plight of children with serious burn injuries – the tough battle they face on their road to physical and emotional recovery. An important part of our efforts is the U-Matter-project which the foundation hopes to have up and running in South Africa shortly.

"This project, in collaboration with Smile Foundation, will provide a platform to families who have endured the trauma of burn injuries to come together and share their experiences. This is an integral part of the healing process," says Palomo.

Preparation underway

The 12-member team who will brave the mighty Kilimajaro consists of five Capetonians - Palomo, Natasha Nicolakakis, Dr Kam Pillay, Amanda Cooke and Stephanie Hatzidemou.

In addition there are Niki Callis from Pretoria, Tsotetsi from Soweto, Dr George Crisps from Australia with the rest of the team comprising Beatriz Prendes, Ana Maria Barton, Mike Kazma and Palomo's daughter, Katie Mohlman – all from the US. The team departs on June 16 and returns on the June 29.

According to Palomo, training in preparation for the big challenge ahead is well underway.

"Physical fitness is crucial, but emotional and physiological preparedness is equally important. Dedication and commitment are required for us to succeed. It's a massive team effort continuing well after we have returned. Once we have raised the money the Smile Foundation takes over to turn our funds into reality."

Hedley Lewis, CEO at Smile Foundation, said: "In order for a meaningful difference and to truly uplift South Africa, organisations and individuals need to unite to change lives. The Smile Foundation salutes the Avela Foundation for taking on another mammoth task to assist burn survivors in South Africa.

"Their steps are steps of hope. We wish Cami and the Avela Team a successful and memorable journey."

A Backabuddy page (dedicated to fundraising efforts) has been set up for donations. 

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