Weddington resident changing lives, one child at a time

Hopes to raise money to fund child life specialist positions at Cape Town hospital

by Josh Whitener

Emily Beauchemin spent three months working in a Cape Town, South Africa hospital and hopes to go back to assist with programs for children. Photo courtesy of Emily Beauchemin

WEDDINGTON – When Emily Beauchemin graduated in 2011 with a degree in child development, she knew she wanted to be a child life specialist. She also knew she wanted to travel abroad.

But the 23-year-old Weddington resident had no idea her passion for helping hospitalized children would take her to Cape Town, South Africa.

Beauchemin recently spent three months working as a child life specialist at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, where she provided psychological and emotional pain management to children dealing with medical difficulties. Red Cross War Memorial, a 200-bed facility, is the only free standing, specialized-care children’s hospital in sub-Saharan Africa.

After seeing such a need for her position in the hospital, Beauchemin is working to raise money to fund two child life specialist positions at Red Cross War Memorial for three years – and she hopes to return to Cape Town to fill one of those positions.

In 2011, after graduating from Appalachian State University and completing an internship, Beauchemin began to wonder how she would be able to use her degree. Because child life specialist jobs are hard to find, Beauchemin kept her options open. When she found out about an opportunity to volunteer as a child life specialist at Red Cross War Memorial through a program called Connect-123, Beauchemin knew she had found her calling.

“Even when I was finishing my internship, I wasn’t applying for jobs right away because I knew my goal was to go to Cape Town,” she said.

The trip wasn’t cheap. Beauchemin had to fork out $1,500 just to go through the program and had to pay for airfare, housing and other necessities, such as food, out of pocket. The whole endeavor cost her about $9,000.

By raising money through donations, working and living with her parents, she saved up enough to fund the rest of the trip. On Feb. 1, Beauchemin departed for Cape Town, where she remained until the end of April.

The experience was life changing. She spent her first two months working primarily in the burns unit, a 20-bed ward for children with severe burns. Beauchemin realized many of the burns – most were related to hot water – could be prevented with some basic education.

“It blew my mind to see the extent of these burns, but then I went to the township, and seeing the conditions, it makes sense,” Beauchemin said. “They lived in such tight quarters, and it was easy for a child to just reach up and grab hot water off the stove.”

Beauchemin provided procedural support for the children, as well as support to family members – mostly mothers who spend days in the hospital with their child. Because the hospital’s clinical staff doesn’t always know how to get children to effectively cooperate, Beauchemin also hosted several seminars with medical and nursing students, instructing them on how to treat the children and respond to them in a caring manner.

Having had an awakening in Cape Town, Beauchemin hopes to use the rest of 2012 to raise enough money to fund two child life positions for at least the first two years, which will cost $130,000. The cost for three years is $225,000. Beauchemin has prepared a grant proposal to send out to various corporations that share her ideology, and she will reach out to make the entire community aware of Red Cross War Memorial’s need to secure their support.

“Being over there made me realize that anyone can make a difference,” she said. “It sounds like a lot of money, but I think it’s definitely an achievable goal, and now’s the ideal time.”

For more information on how to help, contact Emily Beauchemin at 704-877-9638 or

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