Michelle Friedman’s background is in teaching, training and development, for which she has a Masters in Education. Her work incorporated the element of emotional healing, whether it was training Matriculants or Post Graduates in the early ‘80’s or corporate staff in 2004. In 2005 she accepted the position of Manager at Wits Medical School for a research team, Birth to Twenty. This is a longitudinal study of 3000 families across the spectrum of South Africa, starting from the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. It is ongoing.
The operations team was based at Baragwanath hospital and there she met hundreds of children and their mothers or grandmothers. It became clear to her that the immediate need was to assist the grandmothers who were in their second term of ‘motherhood’ as their children had died of AIDS leaving them to care for their grandchildren.
Michelle’s background is in the Arts. She is a published writer, a singer, dancer and actor. As a consultant, she included art, writing, dance and music in her seminars on personal growth and team-building for organisations, including Birth to Twenty. She noticed how quickly participants shed their past pain and began to plan their future.
When a friend from Seattle, Washington, USA, Tom Seeberger, visited South Africa in 2005, he was moved by the children. Before his return to the States Tom asked Michelle what she’d most like to do. She said she’d like a centre for orphaned children who would be able to heal their emotional trauma through song, dance, drama, music, and art. Tom said "You find the children and I’ll find the money."
Setting to work immediately, Michelle met Joy Sephton and they set up a meeting with Johannesburg Child Welfare to find out how they could assist the already high number of AIDS orphans. At that meeting Michelle agreed to take over a building in Zone 6, Diepkloof, Soweto and start her own NGO. Susan Rammekwa, a director of JCW, guided Michelle along her first steps which were to interview local principals of Junior Primary schools and find out if there was a need for such a centre.
The need was overwhelming. Michelle and Susan visited the homes of the children chosen by three schools, Giyani, Inkwenkwezi and JS Mpanza. The caregivers of the children agreed to allow their wards to attend the centre. Michelle sold her furniture and other things to support herself until Tom’s money came through in 2006. At that time Greater Good South Africa, an umbrella organisation, was offering NGO’s a stand at a fair in Sandton Square at Sandton Mall.
A friend of Michelle’s agreed to photograph all the children whose names were on the waiting list.
There were over 100 children. Roz Berzon’s photographs captured the essence of each child – what that child could become. Smiling faces and beautiful children adorned the small cubicle of Re Nale Lona ( We are with you) at the
two day fair. There, Ilana Friedman of Magical Moments, discovered Michelle. Roz introduced Michelle to the family
of Yvonne Segel, a ballet dancer who had just passed away. Much of the contents of her lovely home were driven to
Re Nale Lona at the beginning of 2006. Ilana brought food to the centre on an almost daily basis. She also bought a television set, DVD player, tables and chairs, almost everything the centre needed. Ilana took the children to a luxury holiday camp in KZN, to Snowscape and celebrated the birthdays of the children too. Roz and Ilana were the first of many sent to Re Nale Lona by angels.