“There’s not a mother in this world who would watch her child,
Cry in the street stand and watch her weep
There’s not a mother in this world who wouldn’t give
Up her own life for the life of her child”
-Abdulla Rolle, an established international nasheed writer and artist
The story of Michaela DePrince is one that I will never forget. Between its heartfelt message, its bittersweet moments, and its heart wrenching beginning, the hope of this little war orphan could keep an entire country motivated in such crisis.
A little girl by the name of Mabinty lived a pretty joyous life in a small, poor town in South Africa. Her father worked in the diamond mines while her mother stayed home to help educate Mabinty, for it was unlikely that this tiny girl would get married because of her appearance of white spots covering her neck, arms, and legs. She was considered a devil’s child because of this condition, for only the devil would give birth to such a wretched creature. Under her parents’ tutelage, by the age of 3 Mabinty could read Arabic and speak 5 languages. However, one day news came from the diamond mines that the rebels attacked and Mabinty’s father had been shot. To make matters worse, her uncle, who lived next door, deceivingly took over the girls along with all of Mabinty’s college savings. Then, afflicted by sickness and mistreatment, Mabinty’s mother died. Mabinty was promptly taken to an orphanage because her uncle, believing her to be the devil’s child, knew he wouldn’t get a good deal in marrying her off.
At the refugee orphanage, there were nannies, but not the Mary Poppins type. This type worked only to earn money for their household. They played favorites out of the 27 little war orphans. The beloved number one child would receive the best meals and first choice clothing. However, number 27 would get the smallest portion to eat and the last picked clothing. Mabinty was number 27. Her time at the orphanage was awful, but she still tried to bring her own light to it. She made a friend though with Number 26, whose name was also Mabinty. Number 26 cared for her much like a mother would. She would read to Mabinty when Mabinty couldn’t sleep. Number 26 would sing to her when it was raining or if Mabinty was sad. One day a wind pushed a magazine against the orphanage gates. On the front cover was the picture of a woman in a beautiful costume standing on her tippy toes. But what intrigued Mabinty was the fact that the woman looked overjoyed to be in this position. She ripped off the cover and stuck it inside the only thing that was hers, her underpants. Mabinty later learned from Teacher Sara(h) that the woman was a ballerina. So Mabinty would stretch and flex every day, mimicking the positions of the ballerina, hoping that someday she would become a ballerina.
Time passed and the children of the orphanage learned they would be adopted by American families. Twenty-six of the children had assigned families, but nobody wanted a spotted child. Incredibly, Mabinty and her best friend, number 26, were adopted together. Upon meeting her new mama, 4-year old Mabinty searched the hotel room for pointed shoes or a pink dress or tiara but found nothing. Since she spoke very little English at that point, she pulled out of her underwear the picture of the ballerina and showed it to her new mama. Her mom smiled and said she would dance. Mabinty and Number 26 wanted new American names. Mabinty became Michaela DePrince and number 26, Mia DePrince. Michaela and Mia, once settled in their new homes, both started ballet and dance classes. And, by age ten Michaela was in an upper class, dancing five times a week. Michaela DePrince is an inspiration, and this book follows her fight against all odds. The song at the beginning of this post really describes the whole book, and to me, the meaning of life. This was an amazing book, and I really encourage others to explore more about Michaela DePrince through this book, her movie, TED talks, and inspirational videos.
“Oh people of the world
Can we spare a little justice can we spare a little peace
For the children of war
Oh people of the world
Can we spare a little love can we spare a little prayer
For the children of war”
-Maya S., 8th grade
Taking Flight is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library.