One moment to answer the door, and Fiori Giovanni’s world was torn apart

Jgoy seconds. Twenty seconds and a few centimeters of water is enough for a child to drown.

But Fiori Giovanni, who grew up in a home without a bath in the northeast African country of Eritrea, had never heard of this terrifying statistic and had no idea children drowned in baths. , Eskies, fish ponds, buckets and even pets. balls.

The doorbell at his Southbank flat rang at 7.14am on July 18, 2020. Giovanni can’t wait to see Ben Bellinger, the father of his children. They have separated but remain close and he visits her almost every day.

Fiori Giovanni has been appointed as a Kidsafe ambassador to inform parents that it only takes 20 seconds for a young child to drown.Credit:Joe Armao

Odis, 2.5 years old, and Illen, 7.5 months, play happily with their toys in the bath. The water only reaches Illen’s waist.

Giovanni opens the door.

“I opened the door to let Ben in, and I opened a most twisty sliding door.”

When they enter the bathroom, Illen has slipped under the water. She does not answer. Giovanni and Bellinger are frantic. They call triple zero and take turns frantically trying to revive Illen while they wait for the ambulance to arrive.

Twenty-five children under the age of five drowned in 2020-21 in Australia, according to Royal Life Saving Australia’s national drowning report. This is more than double the previous year. Five drowned in bathtubs and spas.

“I try to go back in time to understand what happened; why didn’t I see this? I kept coming back to this moment.


Twenty minutes

For 20 minutes, Giovanni watches helplessly as paramedics try in vain to resuscitate Illen.

“We were completely in shock because it happened, just like that, so fast,” she whispers. “I try to go back in time to understand what happened; why didn’t I see this? I kept coming back to this moment.

When Giovanni became pregnant, she enrolled in parenting classes and purchased several books on child development. She soaked up parental advice.

A nursery nurse once told her never to leave a baby on a changing table, even if he can’t roll, because the second you have your back turned could be the moment the baby rolls for the first time. .

If Odis was crying and she needed to watch him, she would pick up Illen halfway through changing her diaper, even if it meant she was covered in feces.

Fiori Giovanni with his son, Odis.

Fiori Giovanni with his son, Odis.

But she didn’t know what she knows now – always staying within reach of babies and toddlers in the water. Giovanni’s understanding of drowning had to do with the Mediterranean Sea – where thousands of migrants, including his brother, died trying to reach Europe – not inches of water in a bath.

“When they said to us, ‘Illen, she’s gone’, I screamed and screamed and screamed and fell to the ground. The paramedics turned on me trying to resuscitate me, thinking I had had a heart attack,” she said.

“And when the coroner came, my heart was just tugging at my chest, ‘Noooo, I haven’t finished saying goodbye’, and then I hit [on] the elevator [doors]’I WANT MY DAUGHTER BACK’.

Eleven o’clock

For 11 hours, Giovanni is held at the police station.

A person can be held in custody for a “reasonable time”, a police spokesman said, noting that this was not a specific time limit.

The police notify Child Protective Services, who say Giovanni can only see his son, Odis, under supervision, even though Odis’ father, Bellinger, tells them she’s a great mom.

“I have been with Fiori for four years, and I know she is a good, caring mother with only the best intentions for her children in mind,” Bellinger later wrote in court.

Giovanni says that Odis had never been separated from her before. “We had all just lost our Illen, and more than anything, we needed each other. Still, we were torn,” she says. “I had no idea what I was saying, I made no sense.”


Two months

Two months later, Giovanni is charged with child homicide. His lawyers are puzzled.

“Our research was unable to uncover a single case of prosecution in Victoria for child homicide in circumstances where a parent left their child unattended and during this time the child drowned,” Emma Turnbull’s attorneys say in a November 2020 letter to the Office of Public Prosecutions.

“As to why the decision was made to prosecute Ms Giovanni…it is impossible to say.”

The punishment Giovanni suffered because of the loss of his child will be permanent and permanent, according to the lawyers.

“The focus on parent education and training is something that can always be improved and strengthened through means other than the justice system.”

A police spokesperson said the decision to press charges in any case is based on the evidence available.

“I thought I had experienced the worst kind of pain the world could give, but I quickly realized that day that Illen died, and for the weeks and months that followed, that I didn’t. I didn’t even come close.”


Five months

It’s five months before Giovanni can be with Odis unsupervised.

Giovanni already lived a life of hardship and tragedy before migrating to Australia and becoming a business and executive coach and motivational speaker.

At the age of 12, her marriage in Eritrea was already arranged, she wrote in her 2019 memoir, Challenge your destiny.

“I basically told my parents that if I was forced into marriage I was going to kill myself and the food they were cooking for my wedding would be used for my funeral. And it worked.

At 14, she was recruited into the Eritrean army and sent to work in a military hospital.

A year later, she escaped to Sudan on a bicycle. She crossed from Libya to Italy in a motorized dinghy and applied for asylum in Belgium.

Fiori Giovanni in Sudan, where she fled by bicycle at the age of 15.

Fiori Giovanni in Sudan, where she fled by bicycle at the age of 15.

Five years later, his beloved brother, Amanuel, 19, drowned while attempting the same perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

“I thought I had experienced the worst kind of pain the world could give, but I quickly realized that day that Illen died, and for the weeks and months that followed, that I didn’t. I didn’t even come close.”


Twelve months

Twelve months after Giovanni was accused of homicide on a child, the prosecution drops the case before the Supreme Court. No reason is given.

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“I wish I had that explanation,” Giovanni said. “My lawyers asked them to drop the case in November. They said no. And then 14 months after Illen died, they dropped him. Can you tell us why?

A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Public Prosecutions said that after careful consideration and consultation with the Chief Crown Prosecutor and a senior Crown prosecutor, the Director decided to terminate the prosecution. “It is inappropriate to comment further,” she said.

Somehow, Giovanni managed to carry on despite everything she lost. She says that’s what her Illen would want her to do because she’s the mother of another child. “I’m not just Illen’s mother, I’m also Odis’ mother. You keep doing the other things you need to do.


Two years

This month, Giovanni was named an ambassador for Kidsafe Australia, a charity dedicated to preventing accidental deaths and serious injuries in children under 15.

“Kidsafe Australia is proud to work with Fiori to…educate families and carers on how to keep their children safe,” CEO Melanie Courtney said. “Fiori’s tragic experience in losing Illen could help save other lives.”

In the spiritual world, says Giovanni, it is believed that the child chooses its parents.

“I don’t know if I believe it, or if it serves me to believe it. But I am incredibly lucky and blessed that Illen chose me to be her mom for the 7 ½ months she graced this earth.

“And whether it’s with Kidsafe or my other job, she’s there with me all the time. I feel guided by her. I want to do everything I can to prevent other parents from experiencing this loss.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 131 114 Where Beyond the blue 1300 224 636. For crisis assistance, call triple zero.

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