30th Apr 2017 3:10:29 AM

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Ado Balombo Bambula
Agnes Wabiwa
Amanda Simanga
Amina Mahamat
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Andani Mphaphuli
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Babalwa Mfengu
Baby Babongile
Bafana Nzima
Basheeba Worlotoe
Benoni
Boipelo Mosegedi
Bongani Madlala
Bongani Phakati
Bonginkosi
Brendan
Busisiwe C
Caroline Gichuki
Chris M
Clara
Deon Slabbert
Doreen
Emmanuel Lawal
Esihle
Evelyn Minto Essono's
Feleng
Franklin
Fursy Mugobe
Gabriel
Gabriel C
Gamuchirai Vanessa Gohodza
Gloria
Gontise Mogotsi
Habiba
Hatendi Simbe
Helen Matondo
Hlumelo Dondashe
Irene Peta
Jabulani Malungane
Jacques Abrahams
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Jose Mvula
Kagiso Maphoso
Kagiso Mathebula
Kagiso Mphuti
Karabo Thebedi
Kedibone
Kenyan
Kezia Fern Samuel
Kjetil Sandivk Havnen
Koketso Sekuru
Lathlehele
Lee Branco
Liane Grond
Lida Basson
Loide
Londeka Ngidi
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Mbali
Michelle Ecape
Michelle Mthenjwa
Mimi
Mitta
Mlungisi
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Musiwa
Neliswe Radebe
Nelson Tsabalala
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Nkululeko Jnr
Nomthandazo Shongwe
Nosihle
Nsizwa Vilakazi
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Oscar Mlondolozi Hadebe
Perlucia
Phillip Lesingaran
Phindile
Piet Moloja
Rachid
Reagan
Rien ne Dit
Rolivhuwa Matodzi
Rose Wambua
Rumbi
Saloma Aphanye
Sameh Chiboub
Samkelo Somi
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Seif
Seiso
Selamawit
Shaun
Shaun Hart
Shirley Seqobane
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Sithembiso Hlatshwayo
SiyaAndile
Siyabonga Morwasetla
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Steven Marakeng Mpyana
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Sunday Mukaza
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Thomas
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Vhahangwele Matodz
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Vusi Mathibela
William B
Xavier
Yassine Ben Ali
Zanele Jeza
Zianda Ndlovu
Zipho Zwane
Michelle Mthenjwa



Michele and her Portuguese-language teacher, Solange.





Michele enjoyed a trip to Pretoria in March 2011 to visit the Portuguese Embassy, having lunch out with friends Mitta and Frank, and also to meet reconstructive surgeon Prof Piet Coetzee at the Montana Hospital.





Michele went to KZN in March 2011 to consult with a group of surgeons at the Grand Round in the Nkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.











Michele had fun at Johannesburg Zoo on 5th March 2011



















Michele at Sea World Durban



Michele at sea edge



Michele Snorkel Lagoon



Michele Blue aqua wall



Michele penguin stare



Michele fish aquarium



Michele pink, Durban friends



Michele, ice cream girl



Michele, Londeka, Durban at night



Michele, Dikeledi, in the swimming pool



Michele has a protective helmet from March 2011, thanks to occupational therapist Modise J Mogotsi



Michele loved to see the sparrow feeding his baby in a nest in the plum tree, just outside the upstairs window, in early 2011.















The picture Michele is looking at of her mother.

February 2011 was one of the best months ever in Michele's life as for the first time since she was three months old, she saw an image of her mother again.

Michele was lied to for some six years as to who her mother was. Obstacles were put in the way for family reunification by people with other agendas. Michele came to know who her real mother was, but had no image of her. When she first saw a photo of her late mother, one evening in Soweto, Michele wept tears of joy. She also was reintroduced to real cousins that she had never had a chance to really know - Nino who's a great dancer and wants to be a fashion designer; Eric who's good at carpentry; Bartolmeu who is an electrician. She hopes to learn skills from all of them.













Michele with her counselling psychologist Amber Mahony



Michele has had an interesting few months in 2010 as a range of irregularities in her care have been identified.

Apparently a disability grant was obtained by a relative that she does not live with.

And an unrelated woman regularly signed consent for operations at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, without being questioned by staff as to her true relationship (or not) to the child.

Michele returned to Children of Fire by court order on 10th February 2011, initially for a month.









Michele's Dad's home 22 March 2010

Michele with her white dressing table donated by Catherine Rutstein, felt that she had brought something valuable to her father's flat.

She also took a mattress, a My Little Pony sleeping bag, washbag, books, toys, a school case and colouring pens, to help her settle in.

Sitting on her own crescent-moon shaped chair.







Michele visited her father Ernesto and stepmother Margarida's home for the first time on 22nd March 2010.

Michele took her friends Doreen and Mitta with her, to see the family flat in central Johannesburg.

Michele felt at home with a television and kids cartoons.







Michele met her Daddy today. The little seven year old girl who turns eight next month, did not know what to do. Her Daddy also did not know what to do. Movies would have played the right music at just the right moment. Real life was never so smooth.

I stood between them, holding each of their hands. I explained that some seven years ago, when Michele's real mother died in the fire, her father took the mother home to Mozambique to bury her. That after that, lots of people made mistakes. They made big mistakes and now we were going to start to fix them.

I said: 'Michele, this is your father. Your real father.'
She went to sit on his lap.
They hugged a little awkwardly; more so because Michele has only half an arm on one side; her left arm is fine though.

Ernesto her father, phoned her sister in Mozambique on his cell phone. That link Michele knew, as the woman was a relative she had spoken to before. She chatted freely and then took the phone to Netto who had pretended to be her father for seven years.

Confused, Michele went back to sit on the lap of Maria (30), the woman who has faked motherhood for the past seven years.

Netto, Michele's her elder brother, sat next to his girlfriend Maria.

Were they co-conspirators or Michele's salvation?

The different relatives and friends sipped their teas and coffees and also wondered how they should behave.

I took Michele to the house to give her a moment to think and left the adults to talk in the Children of Fire office.

Sitting on the sofa in the house, Michele focused on our smallest dog, Uju. The soft little dachshund obligingly took the strokes and attention that Michele needed to give it. I held her hand and asked her what she felt. Michele was close to tears but she did not cry. She said she was glad to meet her father. She said she did not know what she felt. She asked: 'When am I going home?' And I asked her: 'Which home?'

I tried to explain that she had three homes now. She had a home with us at Children of Fire.

She had people who cared about her in Soweto, who were not related to her.

And she had a father and his 'wife' who lived in central Johannesburg.

She also had extended family in Mozambique.

I gave her a small necklace 'to remember this day.' It was the kind of gesture that I had hoped her father would make, but maybe he didn't have that imagination, or confidence, or the money for that sort of gift.

I asked her if she was happy to go back to the grownups or would she like one of the children there with her? She asked for Doreen (12), another motherless-girl who was also terribly-burned when young.

Doreen, Mbali (9) and their teacher Mortain Dube walked over from the school. The two older girls explained their injuries to the visitors in simple terms. Michele then shared around some of the large box of biscuits that her father had brought for her. She gave the best chocolate-coated ones to the other two girls. Doreen and Michele sat down, squished together on one chair; and the teacher and Mbali returned to the other children a street away.

The grownups talked a bit longer and as the conversation looked likely to get heavy, I asked the girls if they'd like to return to the school site. They said 'yes' and so Michele hugged her real father and some of the other visitors goodbye, said 'I love you' to no one in particular, and took half the biscuits with her, to share.

I asked Netto what had happened at the meeting with the social worker that was scheduled to take place last week. He said he hadn't gone because of transport and because Maria was working.

I said that I was very disappointed that he had not made it happen (the second time) - not least because he never seems to use public transport anyway. He said that he would not have gone without Maria.

I said that Maria should have taken time off work, if the issue was important to her. The sands always seems to shift with Netto's stories. I boiled the kettle again and left people to talk.

Maria went to make herself another coffee and I called her in to chat with me. I said to her, that she had to have known that this day would come. She said that she knew it. She said that I seemed to have taken the side of the father, but I said that I had only listened to both sides and I had no choice but to follow the law. I asked her if she was not able to have children of her own?

She said that she was pregnant in 2008 with twins, but that one had grown in her fallopian tube and that she had miscarried both babies. The tube had been removed but she could still have children.

She said that without lobolla (dowry) she could not marry Netto. I said that at the age of 30, that was just an excuse. Where there was a will, there was a way.

We went back to talk to the extended family. Ernesto the father, his 'wife' Maria Margarida Malata (called Margarida), Noe Da Silva Simao; Samson Peti Ngulele.

The same cousin Steven who came the other day, was there with his son. There was another older male cousin and also a male friend.

I was at a disadvantage because I could not speak Portuguese.

I asked what had been decided and the father said that nothing would change.

He seemed uncertain. The last time we had met, he sounded prepared, even happy, to have his young daughter to come live with him. His eldest son Netto (also named Ernest) seems to have some sort of hold over him.

I think we will take Michele to visit her father in his home in town, so they can both start to imagine how it might work.

Netto pushed me for a day and time when Michele would go back to Maria. I said that she was not going back until there was a social worker meeting and some legal agreement. I reminded them all that the only person with legal power over Michele was her real father.

I also told them that he had given the charity in-loco parentis power at the police station.

Tomorrow I will try to see if there is such a thing as a Portuguese-speaking counsellor to help the father think through this new situation and to help him to get to know his little daughter.

And maybe Michele can start some Portuguese lessons somewhere somehow...? Her father's spoken English is poor.

Tonight I think Maria will cry. Ernesto will talk long and hard with Margarida. His cousin Steven will tell him to stand up to his adult son. Everyone will think about Michele and Michele will think about them.

Now she is sleeping safe in my home, tucked under a soft cotton duvet. There's a teddy under her good arm and her new necklace is glimmering slightly as it reflects the lights outside.

And I am thinking about the important role my own father played in my life and how it is Michele's human right to know her own father - this Human Rights Day and every day.



















Michelle was orphaned in a fire at the age of three months. She has a large bony deficit (hole) in her skull, nearly as large as that of Feleng.
Michelle 6 and Feleng 7, bony deficit kids
Michelle, rear of head.
Michelle’s “surrogate parents” holding up her scans.
Michelle scans
Michelle, rear of head March 2009
Michelle eating fruit
Michelle scans
Michelle looking upward, showing eyelid problem.
Michelle’s surrogate parents





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