lions and giraffes.. and Rien ne Dit

Belinda, a bit of a wild character..(she wants to eat up all the animals she loves them so much- specially the giraffes) a friend of the charity visited ChiFi to take us, Rien ne Dit, Melissa and Thapelo to the Lion Park in Jo’burg- an unexpected mini safari.



The children got to stroke lion cubs, feed giraffes and to see meerkats, lions, zebras, cheetahs and wildebeests. We rode in a caged truck while others drove through, Whipsnade style. The park made news last year when a woman, driving through, wound down her window to take a photograph of the lions, thinking they were sleeping and in no way near her- ( the guidelines would have warned against this) The lioness leaped towards her neck- she sustained massive blood loss and died. Suffice to say, there is no longer access to the lion enclosure for private vehicles.


Thapelo and Mel brave the big cats.

Rien ne Dit, (translation; nothing to say) the youngest of the burns survivors currently on site at two years old, had a full day yesterday, from the Lion Park through to the regular garden meeting with the children, including singing, Zulu, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, TshiVenda, Chichewa and Shona singing and dancing. I’ve never seen a child go to sleep so quickly when put to bed. He copes well, though and like the others, mature beyond his age. He smiles with one big smiley eye and has the cutest squeaky voice.


Rien ne Dit was born two months premature in the Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2013. His mother, Tantine Mbembo was thirty at the time. The doctor told her to put a paraffin lamp next to Rien to keep him warm (which is ludicrous in a country that never falls below 30 degrees Celsius). At six days old, he moved while he was in his bed and the lamp tipped over causing hot liquid paraffin to pour over his eye and hand; his mosquito net caught fire too.  He was burned before he was supposed to be born.  He’s had five operations so far to fix his eye lid and facial and hand surgery with a lot of splinting; this is as good as it gets at the moment.


Children come and go from the charity, some like Feleng and Dikeledi have no willing families to return to- I spent last night having a chat with Bronwen over a glass of wine. I asked her how she coped when the children left, particularly Rien ne Dit, who I would stow in my luggage if I could, and who she clearly loves, as he runs to her open arms for a hug and a squeeze. She puts on a strong front (sort of) and says’ If I didn’t let them go, their families wouldn’t trust me, and I wouldn’t be able to help other children’. But, she clearly suffers as there is no certainty to the children’s fate when they leave her care, as Rien will before Christmas time as Bronwen flies back with him to the Congo. It is part of the charity’s pledge of honour to the Department of International Relations (and equivalent in other countries), to always repatriate. But with emails, texting, Skype and occasional trips into the deepest Liberian jungle with hardy volunteers, they get feedback even on those who have left five years ago or more.


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