Ronalda was a ten year old Brazilian girl who lived close to the small town of Humaita on the banks of the Rio Madeira. In 2001, members of the Scientific Exploration Society met her on board Kota Mama III during the epic voyage along the tributaries leading to the Amazon. She came with her mother, a sister and brother hoping for some medical help the evening before we were due to move on downstream.We had a medical team to take care of our needs who were ever ready to give assistance to any local community along the way. What made Ronalda special was the fact that her brother was suffering from pernicious anaemia, her sister had a withered arm, while she had a double hare lip and cleft palette. Most of us who were there were horrified that one family could be so unfortunate to have three children with serious medical conditions. Ronalda had a radiant smile and the most beautiful, appealing eyes in spite of the blemish to her general looks. Sadly, there was nothing which could be done for any of the family as they all needed long-term treatment and we were just passing through.
None of us could forget her though and on returning to the UK we began to pursue several possibilities. Ronalda’s condition could be treated but it needed money. It seemed outrageous that this could be the only stumbling block to her having a real chance in life. We discovered that an organisation called Smile Train could arrange for her to have the corrective operations by the Sobrapar organisation in Brazil. Sobrapar’s hospital is located at Campinas, a town near the Atlantic coast of Brazil. It is many miles from Humaita so the problem was to get her and her mother there.
A fund was set up by my old friend Jim Masters and Society members generously collected over £4000 to cover the costs. In February 2002 Richard Drax, a presenter for the BBC who had accompanied part of the Kota Mama expedition, flew out to Sao Paolo and travelled up to Ronalda’s village during a tropical storm. By boat and bus he then journeyed across Brazil with Ronalda and her mother Rosilda to Campinas where Ronalda underwent a series of operations carried out by a Dr Cassio and his team. As a result, her face is now almost completely recovered. She needed a couple more operations as she grew up but we tried to keep in touch and help. Alas, we finally lost contact with her.
We have the greatest respect and gratitude for Dr Cassio and his team who were superb in their care and treatment of Ronalda. Sadly Dr Cassio passed away a few years ago but his work goes on.
Richard Drax shot a short film which was screened on TV South and thanks to Viscount Gough, the Society raised over £20,000, some of which was used to assist another child with facial disfigurement in the jungles of Brazil.
Yoli Cipagauta, the SES representative in Latin America continued to seek Ronalda and in 2018 heard that Marcelo Mendes, who was a Captain in the Brazilian Marines and had been our liaison officer on the Kota Mama expedition, was promoted and as a Colonel sent to Manaus in command of the Marines based there.
Thanks to Marcelo’s help we were able to find Ronalda. In October 2018 a Naval officer found her near the village of Humaita. She had married and had a daughter, sadly born with a similar facial disfigurement to Ronalda. However, happily this was corrected at a local hospital. But Ronalda was pregnant and on 10th November gave birth to twin girls, three months early. They had to be raised in an incubator but talking to Ronalda on the phone Yoli learned that very sadly both little girls have died.
Meanwhile the SES Expedition Base has been informing former members of the Kota Mama III expedition, including Richard Drax, now the MP for South Dorset. Yoli is keeping in touch with Ronalda and we have started a small fund to help her.
We were very sorry to hear of the loss of Ronalda's twins and she has expressed her thanks to all those who have helped her.