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Meeting Mikey: Born to Shine in South Africa

We went to South Africa to make a film to show Born to Shine viewers how vital their support is there. We met many children, including Teboho and his mum, who will appear in this Sunday’s Born to Shine (8pm, ITV1). Teboho’s mum is too sick to work, and because she can’t work, she has no food to offer her little boy.

But while we were there we met many other children, one of whom really stuck in my mind, she’s called Mikey, is 13, and lives with her father, Mpho, who is bed-ridden after suffering a stroke. We visited their home in Qwa Qwa, about four hours south of Johannesburg.

The most important support is the hardest to explain

It’s not easy to capture on film the kind of support that really makes the difference to children here. It was meeting Mikey that brought home to me that some of the most important support we give children here is some of the hardest to explain.

We met Mikey and her dad in the late afternoon, after we’d spent the day meeting families in the area who get support from Save the Children. This was our last visit of the day. We were warned the house was out of the way and a bit of a climb up the mountain away from the main township. But we set off up the slopes, walking through waist-deep yellow grasses that rippled in the wind.

We finally saw the house, sitting hidden in a dip in the hill, and Mikey invited us in. She’s tall for 13, and slim, with little braids close to her scalp, and very pretty. In the main room of the house, with her dad in bed in the room next door, we were introduced to her as Damakatsu. It was only later, as we got to know her, that we found out her nickname was Mikey, apparently a common shortening of her name.

A case full of memories

On the left by the front door was a small glass cabinet that contained a photo of a much younger Mikey and a woman I presumed was her mum. On either side of the photo were cards and letters and trinkets that looked like memorabilia.

That first meeting with Mikey was very painful. I opened the conversation just talking about general things – school, her friends, her dad – but Mikey started to cry straight away. She was barely able to speak and was so emotionally vulnerable I started to cry too. We changed the chat to lighter topics but as the sun was going down we asked if she’d like us to visit again. She said yes, so we arranged to visit her the next day after school.

Jess from Save the Children with beneficiary Mikey near her home in South Africa.
Mikey demonstrates (on me!) her talent for plaiting hair.

In the end we visited Mikey almost every day for five days. She grew in confidence with us hugely and started to show us the drawings that she did (she’s a very talented artist), her school work, and how good she was at plaiting hair (which she demonstrated on me).

Her dad spoke very movingly to us about what kind of a mother his wife had been, his sadness for Mikey and how much she missed her mum.

Mikey herself always cried when she talked about her mum. One day when we arrived she was making a card for her mum. She told us it was because she was missing her so much that day. It dawned on me that the glass case full of letters and cards were the ones that Mikey had been writing to her mum since her death.

Save the Children case workers who live in Mikey’s area had identified her as needing help. And quite apart from the practical help that Mikey needs, now that she’s looking after her dad, just having someone to drop by and be there, to give emotional support too, you can’t put a price on that.

Please watch Born to Shine this Sunday, on ITV1 at 8pm, and see for yourself how important your support is for children in South Africa.

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