“She has spots”, was the warning from care takers at the orphanage. Elaine DePrince didn’t care. She had travelled more than 4300 miles (close to 7000 kilometers) from New Jersey to Sierra Leone to adopt a little girl named Mia, but when she was told her friend Michaela might never find a home, they took her too. Number 26 and 27 (each child at the orphanage was numbered) were inseparable. In a 2012 interview with Teen Vogue, Michaela DePrince revealed that the numbers were ranked from the most favored to the least. “I was at the very bottom for being rebellious and having a skin condition called vitiligo, which produces white freckles on my neck and chest.” She says she was called devil child, while Mia was ridiculed because she was left-handed.
Born Mabinty Bangura, Michaela was just four-years old when the DePrince family adopted her. But by then she had already lived through a lifetimes’ worth of tragedy. He father was murdered by rebels when she was three. Days later, her mother died of starvation. It was her uncle who took her to the orphanage for care. Her birth home is a place she’ll never forget, Michaela tells the audience at the Women in the World Summit. She says she still receives calls from some of the other children who were at the orphanage – they were all adopted to what one can hope were happy, loving homes.
Michaela was lucky. The other orphans were lucky. We are quickly reminded of that reality by Dr. Jane Aronson, known as the Orphan Doctor. Over 150 million orphans from around the world don’t have a place to call home, says Aronson. “Children lie alone, languishing in metal cribs, rocking back and forth.” That, she says, is a typical day for orphans.
Michaela’s journey however is perhaps anything but typical. At age 4 she held up a torn magazine picture of a ballerina and told her new mother that she wanted to dance on her toes. She spent 7 years at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia before being awarded a scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of the American Ballet Theatre. Now eighteen, she’s the youngest member of New York’s renowned Dance Theater of Harlem.