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Plucked from poverty in Mozambique

Andrew Harding | 11:44 UK time, Thursday, 19 August 2010

Rosita Chibure sitting up the tree where her mother gave birth to her 10 years ago
Rosita Chibure has taken off her shoes and is climbing carefully up the gnarled tree towards the branch where she was born, 10 years ago. Her mother, Carolina, watches from the ground.

"Anything is possible," Carolina says, reflecting on the day that she and her baby daughter were saved, and looking round at the straw huts of the impoverished village she no longer calls home.

The circumstances of Rosita's unusual birth were captured by a television camera on board a rescue helicopter that hovered above Mozambique's raging floodwaters, poised to haul mother and child from the branches, cut their umbilical cord, and carry them to a life of unexpected celebrity.

Today, with Pakistan grappling with an even more devastating flood, I've come to Mozambique to see what lessons this huge country might be able to offer. But that's for the next blog. Right now I just wanted to let you know a little more about Rosita and Carolina.

Future president?

First the good news. Carolina has a job as a cleaner in a government office in the nearby town of Chibuto. She has another daughter, Cecilia, aged 10 months, who has also inherited her bright eyes and striking features. The government has given them a fine brick house with a big yard not far from the state school where Rosita now studies each morning. She's a shy but friendly girl who dotes on her baby sister and says her ambition is to become "the president of the republic".

Rosita, with her mother and sister, by the plaque below her birth tree

And why not? Rosita's fame is certainly not of the flash-in-the pan variety - at least not in Mozambique. The story of her birth is part of the national school curriculum in a country prone to both droughts and regular flooding. She and her mother have been taken abroad and feted by a government that knows the contribution their tree-birth-rescue made in terms of garnering international attention and aid during the 2000 floods. A plaque has been put on a white plinth below Rosita's birth tree.

But the past decade has not been easy for a family plucked - quite so literally - from poverty and obscurity. Rosita's largely absent father, Salvador, is accused of taking and wasting almost all the money that was given to the family by well-wishers soon after their rescue. A new house is wonderful, so is a school nearby, but the lifestyle implies and requires an income that - thanks to her husband - Carolina does not have. There have been some very difficult moments.

As the sun is setting, Carolina and Rosita wander away from the tree to look round their old village. With their plaited hair, dainty shoes and smart clothes, they stand out like foreign tourists. "Our lives have changed so much," says Carolina. "Nothing happens without God's help."


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