'Children of the night' enjoy a sleepover at uShaka Sea World

  • 19 March 2014 | Ann Kunz | Category: Education

Meeting a dolphin for the first time can be a little overwhelming

Every year Southern African children suffering from xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) get together for a weekend of adventure, laughter, sharing, caring and learning. The group of 55 who attended this year’s uShaka camp from 14 to 17 March included 18 children, family members, caregivers, volunteers, a social worker and two doctors.

XP is a rare genetic disorder caused by the body’s inability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light. There are about 1 000 known cases worldwide and about 20 cases in Southern Africa. 

Children with XP experience severe sunburn even after brief exposure to the sun, which leads to changes in their skin and causes eye damage, which means they are never able to enjoy normal daylight activities. This enforced lifestyle has earned them the name "Children of the Night" or "Midnight Children".

This year the youngsters spent the first night of their annual weekend camp at uShaka Marine World. The uShaka Sea World team was honoured to be able to create a magical night for these brave little people, and their phenomenal parents and caregivers. 

When the sun went down and the UV light detector signalled the all-clear, everyone headed off to the dolphin stadium for a specially scripted dolphin show in which each child got to meet and interact with one of the dolphins.

Seals are always happy to oblige with a wet, fishy kiss 


The majority of the 18 children and their parents had never seen a marine animal before, so the sight of a dolphin up close was at first a little overwhelming, but they soon relaxed as the group’s enthusiasm and joy became contagious.

Then it was off to the seal stadium where the seal team had put together a special show. Under the ever-watchful eyes of the XP volunteers, uShaka Sea World staff and their moms or grannies, they received their first seal kiss. Touching, smelling and feeling a seal which is as big if not bigger than you are takes a lot of courage, especially if your vision is impaired and you have to rely solely on the voices of those around you to guide you through the experience. This was a new experience not only for the children, but for the seals too, as this was their first night show.

People with XP and their families face many challenges in their daily lives and need time to connect with one other to share stories, remedies and challenges, and to revel in the luxury of talking to someone who understands and shares their sorrows and joys. For most of the parents, these annual camps are the only time they are able to meet other parents of XP sufferers. With this in mind the functions ladies prepared a special dinner for the adults, while the children filled their tummies with special treats in an adjoining room.  

Since some parents had travelled for two days to get to Durban, they were beginning to show signs of fatigue, and it was decided to head off to the aquarium where 60 beds had been made up in between the shark and fish exhibits. It soon became evident that it was the parents and caregivers who were tired and not the children, who spent the next few hours exploring the aquarium and discovering hidden treasures.

At six the next morning everyone headed off to enjoy a lavish breakfast and some indoor fun at uShaka Kids’ World, before heading off to their next destination.

uShaka Marine World salutes the Xeroderma Pigmentosum Society and all that it is achieving in offering support, hope, confidence and guidance to XP sufferers from all over Southern Africa.

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