Teens’ idea will warm hearts, bodies

Zandile Mbabela

YOUR empty chip packets could help keep a homeless or displaced person warm this winter, according to a Theodor Herzl High School pupil who has come up with the bright idea of making them into blankets for the needy.

Grade 10 pupil Christie Vaughn, 16, had been thinking up ways of doing something meaningful for people less fortunate than herself when she had the brainwave earlier this month.

Christie and her schoolmate and best friend, Sonali Madhoo, also 16, have decided to make thermal, or space, blankets to beat the bitter cold – and are challenging other schools to join them.

A space blanket is a plastic insulating body wrapping coated on one or both sides with aluminium foil which reflects back most of the body heat lost by radiation. It is carried by climbers and mountaineers, among others, for use in cases of exposure or exhaustion

They are also often used by paramedics and other emergency rescue workers, and are the best at preventing death by hypothermia.

They are lightweight, waterproof and windproof, and are named after the material originally developed as part of the US space programme.

Christie, who is passionate about charity, wanted to make a difference in an unique way but did not want to distribute normal blankets because they got wet when it rained, “making the person feel even colder”.

“My mom once told me about girl scouts and how they would make blankets out of newspapers and plastic bags, but when I googled it, I learnt it takes a lot of time to make one. I wanted to do something fast and in time for winter,” she said.

“She then told me how, as youngsters, they would wrap themselves in tin foil to tan – and science has also taught us that foil keeps in heat.”

The idea for the space blankets was planted after Christie’s experience with hypothermia when she completed the Nelson Mandela Bay Bell Buoy Challenge – a swimming race from Hobie Beach to the Bell Buoy reef – last year.

“I got back and was very disoriented and on the brink of unconsciousness, and was wrapped in a space blanket,” she said. “Within minutes, I was feeling so hot, I asked what properties in the blankets gave that effect.

“It was about three weeks ago that I thought we could do something similar and using empty chip packets was the best way.”

The girls have since embarked on a drive to collect as many packets as possible. Sonali said they had set up bins around the primary and high school for pupils to throw their packets in.

At the high school, they had a competition going in which the class that collected the most packets would win a prize.

“We have a civvies day coming up on May 10 and instead of bringing money, we asked pupils to bring either two big chip packets or four small ones,” she said.

The teenagers are challenging other schools and organisations to do the same.

“The more we collect, the more blankets we can make to benefit more people,” Christie said.

They plan to use their partnerships with Walmer High School and the Nanaga Village near Colchester to get the blankets distributed.

“We know this is not the answer to homelessness in South Africa, but it is at least a try,” Christie said.

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