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Fiji Time: 6:42 PM on Thursday 17 April

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Madiba and I

Dawn Gibson
Saturday, December 14, 2013

IT'S a beautiful feeling to be loved by someone but to have been told that by the late Nelson Mandela can be a life-changing experience.

For 33-year-old Fiji girl Mindy Halabe, the day Mr Mandela told her he loved her for writing to him left her speechless.

Ms Halabe is a midwife who lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.

Born and bred in Fiji, Ms Halabe spent her primary and secondary school years at Yat Sen schools in Suva with her three sisters and lived with her parents who own a home in Tamavua.

Back in Fiji in 1993, the young Ms Halabe, then 13 years of age, began reading Mr Mandela's highly-praised autobiographical book, Long Walk to Freedom, which she described as something that moved her deeply and changed her outlook on life.

Upon completing the book, she felt an urgency to create a more personal connection with "the main man himself" and decided that she would write him a letter.

"I was intrigued by Nelson Mandela from a very young age," Ms Halabe explained yesterday.

"I had a strong urge to have a personal connection with him as the book and Mandela himself moved me in more ways than one."

She admitted that although she made a decision to write to Mr Mandela, then the President of South Africa, she did not expect the letter to reach him.

"I handwrote the letter and addressed the envelope to 'The President of South Africa'.

"I didn't write anything else on the envelope.

"I was sure it would get lost in the mail somewhere from Fiji all the way to South Africa but to my surprise, it didn't."

She said contrary to her expectations, she in fact received one letter every month for six months from Mr Mandela's secretary apologising about the delay in his response time.

"Eventually he responded and I remember the moment very clearly. The feeling was indescribable.

"The best thing about the letter is where he tells me he loves me.

"I'm so, so honoured about that line, my family were just as excited as me so we framed the letter," Ms Halabe recalled.

She said although she never met the man in person, she felt as if she shared an undeniable bond with him ever since that day.

"I haven't met him, but I certainly feel like I have.

"My father and Mandela are my two heroes. Both have told me they love me, I am a very lucky girl."

Ms Halabe said hearing about Mr Mandela's passing last week was painful.

"I was very emotional. I was sad about his passing but so very grateful of all the things he left behind.

"I have started to read his book again for the fourth time and am finding it a little more moving than the other three times. I look forward to telling my children all about the great man."