TACOMA, Washington — Michaela DePrince, a world-renowned soloist for the Dutch National Ballet, uses her platform to campaign for children’s mental health programs in areas of conflict. This hits home for DePrince because she grew up in the midst of Sierra Leone’s civil war. After losing both her parents, her uncle abandoned her at an orphanage because of her skin condition, vitiligo, where over time her skin loses pigmentation. Due to this, she was considered “the devil’s child” and subsequently received the least amount of care at the orphanage.
Her luck began to turn when she found a magazine with a ballerina on the cover in the orphanage’s yard. Using this image she set out on a path full of the hope that she could be that ballerina one day. With time, an American family adopted her and quickly noticed her aptitude for ballet. Her dedication to ballet showed as she studied and she went to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre. From there she became a soloist at the Dutch National Ballet.
Children’s Mental Health in Armed Conflict
In 2018, around 250 million children faced growing up in areas of conflict. Extreme violence and war leave lasting effects on children’s mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. This state only leaves children more vulnerable to other developmental shortcomings, like irritability and internalizing feelings.
A component that reinforces mental health problems is the relocation of children from war zones. They often lack support from family or education that makes them feel safe in their new environment. Because of this, they set low expectations for school and face discrimination. The feeling of defeat continues to dampen the child’s success. This played a large part in DePrince’s decision to partner with War Child as a supporter.
Since 2016, DePrince has been an advocate for the organization War Child, which aims to improve the quality of life for children living in armed conflict through psychological and educational support. The programs promote the importance of a child’s confidence and trust through various recreational activities and child support. Along with children, communities and adults receive tools to reinforce stability through the programs.
In 2019, War Child helped 267,754 children and adults receive mental health resources. One of the programs called Team Up is a collaborative effort by War Child, UNICEF and Save the Children to emphasize “structure and stability” to refugee children displaced by war. Branches of Team Up help in Holland, Sri Lanka, Columbia, Uganda and Occupied Palestine Territory. Sports and activities demonstrate the themes of friendship, respect and conflict for the children.
Ambassador For War Child
To witness War Child’s efforts firsthand, DePrince traveled to Uganda and Lebanon between 2017 and 2019. Combined those countries have nearly 1.94 million children affected by armed conflict. While there, she held ballet workshops for refugee children and worked on daily activities to inspire them to dream big.
One of her larger contributions to the organization was her “Dare to Dream” gala held in November of 2019 at the ASFS Live concert hall in Amsterdam. The event brought together benefactors from around the globe to participate in an auction followed by performances from Sam Smith, Brandi Carlile and Michaela herself. As a whole, the gala raised enough money to help more than 5,000 children.
By telling her story, DePrince hopes to support children’s mental health when affected by armed conflicts. She wants to inspire them to dream big. For her, the hope she had for the future elevated her mindset to continue to persevere. As an example to children just like her, she continues as an advocate and an ally for children in need.
– Adrianna Tomasello