What started as yet another adventurous and joyful Christmas Day ended in disaster for 13-year-old Jennifer Banda of Lilongwe who sustained an injury from a firecracker and is at risk of losing an eye.
Like most children in Malawi, Jennifer, a Standard Five learner at Chimwala Primary School, was excited to be in a team of colleagues celebrating Christmas Day on Tuesday by letting off firecrackers.
When one of her firecrackers seemed to fizzle out without the expected noisy blast, the innocent and unsuspecting Jennifer curiously picked it up from the safe distance she had earlier thrown it at.
She checked it out to ascertain if the cracker’s supposed short fuse needed recharging with a second match-stick fire.
It was at that point that the cracker blew up, up-close, in Jennifer’s face. The poor soul may live to regret her ‘innocent’ action all her life for she seems to have lost her left eye in the cracker’s delayed-action blast that also burned part of her face.
Jennifer’s father, Charles Banda, 40, said the incident happened at about 10am at their home in Area 36 residential area on Christmas Day.
He said: “My wife Patricia and I rushed out of the house after hearing Jennifer crying, apparently in great pain. We tried to clean her face, but we later took her to a nearby clinic and then to Bwaila Hospital.
“We were advised to swiftly refer the case to Kamuzu Central Hospital [KCH] where my daughter was given initial treatment and was admitted to a ward.
, they have taken her to the theatre where they will establish if the seriously-injured eye will be removed or not. We are shattered that the future of our only daughter, among four children, can be threatened by such an innocent-looking action on the happy day.”
Banda said he regrets living up to his annual routine of buying firecrackers for his children ahead of Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations.
He said: “I had bought some five giant firecrackers a few days before Christmas and I kept them away from the children. But after attending a Christmas Day church service at Kasemba Church of CCAP, I felt it was time for greater joy for the children outside our house by releasing the crackers.
“Ironically, the very first cracker I released seemed to malfunction and later led to Jennifer’s serious injury. I later dumped the other crackers in a pit-latrine, in disgust, and to prevent any other accident.”
KCH eye clinician Lyton Lemani said the patient seems to have lost 60 percent of her vision because of the firecracker blast.
He said: “It appears the blast scorched part of the sensitive cornea in her eye and if a scar forms as the eye [now heavily swollen] heals, that will obviously hinder her vision. We will continue providing the best treatment and monitoring, partly by the ward admission.”
The clinician expressed concern that the Eye Department often receives several cases, every year, whereby firecrackers damage people’s eyes.
“Something should be done to sensitise people against such carelessness because an eye is a very important organ in the body,” he said.
Reacting to the issue, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera regretted Jennifer’s tragic incident.
He warned that more children may be at risk if better caution is not taken, particularly during the people’s overnight celebrations on December 31, as people usher in the New Year.
Kadadzera said: “Traditionally, people pop a lot of firecrackers between now and the end of the year during these special celebrations. But parents and other elders should supervise such celebration so that we avoid more accidents.
“Children should not be left alone when they blast firecrackers. Ensure that the fire crackers are popped in safe, open spaces. Without supervision, the children may cause disasters by, among other ways, lighting up the crackers from under cars, inside houses or into unsuspecting crowds.”