A small clinic on the other side of the world is giving some comfort to a Petrolia couple who lost their daughter in a fire.
Last December, Charmaine Collins was killed in a fire in the Ottawa home she shared with six other girls. The Petrolia native had told her parents, Karen and Jaime, a few days before hand that she was cold and the furnace had not been working properly.
They told her to get a space heater until the landlord called the repairman. While the Ontario Fire Marshall hasn’t released the cause of that fire yet, initial reports say the furnace was to blame.
The year has been long and difficult for Charmaine’s parents. Jaime feels comforted talking to friends about his daughter but says, “it makes me cry every day but it’s easier to talk than to keep it inside.”
Karen put her head down and worked, struggling through the pain. Just this month, the couple moved out of the home Charmaine grew up in. “That final day was hard,” says Jaime with tears in his eyes.
“Charmaine’s sister didn’t want to stay there anymore,” says Karen adding it was too painful now that Charmaine was gone.
“So we started a new chapter,” says Karen. The family is meeting together this weekend and will plant a tree in her memory at the new house.
But in their grief, there has been a comfort – small clinic, Ekuthuleni Creche in Vulamehic, South Africa.
When Charmaine died, the family decided to raise money to help people in South Africa in their daughter’s name.
Years earlier, on the first day of high school at St. Christopher’s in Sarnia Charmaine heard about an exchange program. She came home excited about the prospect of traveling. “We said, ‘pack your bags, we’ll do what we can to get you there,’” says Karen.
“We like to give our kids the opportunity to do what we couldn’t do,” adds Jaime.
So she went to South Africa for 11 months. “It changed her,” says Karen. “It changed what she wanted to do, she saw the world with a different perspective.”
While in South Africa, Charmaine documented the depth of poverty especially in the schools where there were three children to a desk, no bookshelves and no garbage baskets. “It hit home for her.”
Karen says the trip inspired her to use her gifts in the visual arts instead of pursuing marine biology. When she died in the fire, she was hoping to start her own photography business.
The Collins family wanted to do something to honour that love of the people of South Africa, so they talked with the family she stayed with there and came up with the idea of supporting a crèche – a small clinic which helps children who were orphaned when their parents died of HIV/AIDS.
Friends and family donated $6,000 to the project. “We realized how many people Charmaine touched,” says Jaime saying they can’t thank the community enough for the emotional support and financial gifts for the project.
That money has gone a very long way, completely refurbishing the clinic. Inside the crèche is a plaque with Charmaine’s picture which says in part “the children attending this crèche will have a better and brighter start in life because of Charmaine.”
And that give some comfort to her parents. “We’re blown away that in such a time of tragedy, something good could come out of this,” says Karen through her tears.