This astonishing photo of ballet dancer Michaela DePrince has 4,568 shares on Facebook, leaving astonished readers raving while spellbound. Many said: “This is surely one of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen.”
Michaela’s story is even higher impact, and none of the common words like ‘resilient’ or ‘courageous’ apply. Michaela’s story is one of triumph and also an American couple promoting our best values, the less well-known stories that rarely make headlines.
Michaela DePrince as Mabinty Bangura
Exposure.org.uk shares Michaela’s history as a girl named Mabinty born in 1995 in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Then considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, Mabinty’s father became one of 300,000 people killed in a civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. Her mother died of starvation, leaving Mabinty via her uncle to be put in an orphanage at age three.
Because Mabinty suffered from a skin condition called Vitiligo, she was labeled a ‘devil child’ and always treated differently. Food, clothes and other life essentials were handed out according to a best to worst child ranking system at the orphanage. Of the 27 children, Mabinty was known as ‘number 27’.
A teacher who befriended her was murdered by rebels before her eyes. The BBC explains that pregnant women experienced a special kind of mutilation.
“If they found a boy they would let the woman go, or kill the mother and save the child,” DePrince says. “But they found a baby girl when they cut my teacher’s stomach open, so they cut her arms and legs off.”
DePrince says that the younger boy, perhaps in an effort to impress the older soldiers, took a machete to her stomach too. She blacked out - but was rescued when her mat-mate raised the alarm.
Then the universe sent Mabinty a picture one day.
“There was a lady on it, she was on her tippy-toes, in this pink, beautiful tutu. I had never seen anything like this - a costume that stuck out with glitter on it, with just so much beauty. I could just see the beauty in that person and the hope and the love and just everything that I didn’t have.
“And I just thought: ‘Wow! This is what I want to be.’”
DePrince ripped the photograph out of the magazine and, for the lack of anywhere else to keep it, stuffed the treasured scrap in her underwear.
“It represented freedom, it represented hope, it represented trying to live a little longer,” she recalls. “I was so upset in the orphanage, I had no idea how I got through it but seeing that, it completely saved me.”
When an international organization seeking to place orphans in adopted homes in safe countries, Mabinity didn’t receive any of the ‘family books’ from the United States, being ‘number 27’ and a ‘devil child’. She wasn’t going anywhere.
In yet another moment of horror, Mabinty’s life changed in an entirely different direction. The orphanage was warned it would be bombed and totally destroyed. Mabinty ‘number 27’ hit the road with her friend, also named Mabinty, or ‘number 26’. The girls walked for miles through Sierra Leone until, miraculously unharmed by rebels, they reached a refugee camp.
‘Number 27’ was reborn in that camp, along with ‘number 26’. Her American parents Elaine and Charles DePrince were hoping to adopt Mabinty Suma, ‘number 26’. Upon learning of her story and how the little girl with Vitiligo was unlikely to be adopted at all, the couple couldn’t envision separating the two Mabinty girls. And so at age four, Mabinty Bangura was renamed Michaela De Prince, and she joined her parents and new renamed sister Mia, along with a third girl Mariel in starting a new life in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Note that the DePrinces are adoptive parents to eight other children, in addition to two biological children.
The Ballerina Blooms