Unbreakable. The burn survivor who became a hero


When William Baartman was three years old, his family’s home was petrol bombed. It was 1976, and protesting students targeted Baartman’s father, an Afrikaans teacher. The fire took Baartman’s sister, Grace, and left him with burns across 75% of his body. He never finished school – the bullying was too much. Baartman was ashamed, and chose to stay home, hidden from the world. But today he walks with confidence. When Baartman visits children who have also suffered burns, he sees his younger self in them – strong survivors. But what the children see is their future.

“I go back to the hospital and I teach the children to be confident at all times that they can do anything,” Baartman says. “I want them to feel free while they’re still healing.” He works with the Avela Foundation, an NPO that helps organisations specialising in burn treatment and provides emotional support to survivors. In South Africa, 68% of children under the age of 14 have suffered burn injuries, and burns are one of the leading external causes of death for children under the age of four. But as the head of the organisation’s Mentorship Programme, Baartman is showing affected kids that life is full of possibilities.

One of the ways he’s doing that is by completing a week-long trek with the foundation to Everest Base Camp. “Lots of people believe that because I’m different I’m unable to do anything and that my mind is also affected,” Baartman says. “This is not the case.” The climb will raise funds to launch Avela’s emotional support network, and go towards refurbishing the burns unit at Kimberley Hospital. While Baartman’s quiet resilience is awe-inspiring, the children who meet him from their hospital beds see him not only as a hero, but as a hero who looks like them. “Don’t give up,” Baartman says. “You can go anywhere you want to.”

To support Baartman’s journey, donate here.