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Walter Mokoena teaching at university

Walter Mokoena began a new chapter in his life on Tuesday as an academic..

Mozambique's 'tree child' turns 17, studying

By AFP | 2017-02-28 10:43:35.0

Rosita Mabuiango's birth in a tree above swirling waters 17 years ago thrust her into instant stardom, drawing global attention to the worst floods to hit Mozambique in recent memory.

The images of Rosita draped in dirty linen, moments after she and her mother were hoisted to safety by a helicopter, touched the world, helping raise funds for tens of thousands of flood victims.

But these days, the teenager does not consider herself special.

"I'm normal, it's just a different way of being born," she says with a broad smile.

Rosita was born on March 1 in 2000, four days after her marooned mother had clambered into a tree to escape deadly floods ripping through southern Mozambique.

"I think it's God who chose that I be born that way," the soft-spoken Rosita said, her gaze lowered as she sat on a cream sofa at her godmother's house in Maputo. Torrential floods had forced a heavily pregnant Carolina Chirindza and other family members on to a tree with no food or water.

Clinging onto tree branches, Chirindza - previously named as Sofia Pedro - also went into labour. Her mother-in-law held a capulana - a long sarong - under her to catch the baby and prevent it from falling into crocodile-infested flood waters.

The baby was named Rosita, after Chirindza's mother-in-law.

"I was not prepared for this, but that's what God wanted," Chirindza, 39, said while sitting outside her house in Chibuto, a city 280km northeast of Maputo.

The baby and the mother were winched away by a South African defence force helicopter just after the birth. As Rosita approaches her 17th birthday, her mother said their survival was a "miracle".

"Yes it changed my life because now I have a house, I also have a job," said Chirindza, speaking in front of a three-bedroom house donated to the family by the local municipality.

She was also given a post as a cleaner by the district administrator, lifting her out of dire poverty.

Four and a half months after she was born, Rosita and her mother travelled to Washington to lobby the US Congress for expanded aid to help tens of thousands of Mozambicans affected by the catastrophe.

Nearly 800 people died in the disaster. To mark the event, a plaque has been erected on the mafureira, or natal mahogany tree, where she was born. But Rosita is relieved that public attention on her has faded as she focuses on her studies.

She wants to study petrochemical engineering - a strategic career choice with the recent discovery of gas reserves off the coast of Mozambique. When not studying, she plays football at her Catholic school and for local junior clubs.

Neighbours say her father, Salvador Mabuiango, is estranged from the family after selling some gifts and even trying to sell a portion of the land on which the family house is built. A court eventually stripped him of his parental rights.

During school term, Rosita lives in Maputo with her godmother, Ruth Valera, a leading Mozambican fashion designer. Valera, 49, was requested by a cabinet minister to be Rosita's godmother.