Saturday, August 21, 2010

When I met Victoire she hugged me with a certain tenderness usually reserved for old friends. She arrived to the village several days after the other kids. I knew she was special from the beginning, even before I learned of her illness. She carried herself with an unmatched poise and resilience.  She had the air of a survivor, strong and wise beyond her 17 years.  After her first several emergency trips to the hospital in Kigali, I realized she had been fighting an ongoing battle with her body nearly her entire life. It was finally revealed that her heart was not pumping blood the way it should. She was constantly dizzy and weak from lack of oxygen and her small frame would become bloated from retaining fluids. Despite her physical discomfort, Victoire always persisted.  Whenever she felt slightly better, she insisted on joining the other kids in school. She had a unique hunger for knowledge, a courage to pursue things that she was told were "impossible" for her to accomplish given her condition.  

The most striking quality about Vicky was her smile. Vicky's smile wasn't just a smile, it was an energy that could light up an entire room. There were several times when I visited her in the clinic and she was in bed drifting in and out of sleep. But, as soon a I sat down next her her she would roll over and greet me with a beaming smile, strong enough to supply me a whole day of courage. A true testament to the contagious love she exuded was the bonds she shared with her sisters. Vicky made the village community stronger. Her battle was an inspiration to us all. 

When Vicky went to South Africa and survived a very difficult open-heart procedure in which the surgeons nearly rebuilt her heart, it looked as though she would return to the village stronger than ever. But due to a post-op infection, this dream was never realized.  It is futile to look for reason behind the loss of a beautiful, strong 17 year old woman. However, I can take comfort in the fact that Vicky spent the happiest time of her life with us in the village.  She was loved so deeply and her story has even touched the lives of those abroad that never had the privilege of meeting her. Her village family never has to mourn alone because we host visitors offering their condolences every night. Her life impacted so many people, in fact, they announced her death on the Rwandan radio.  

Vicky was and always will be my sister. Today I weep because her life was cut short and she was never able to grow to her full potential. But her spirit lives inside me everyday and it is the force that encourages me to persist in hard times and to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of others. I will miss you Vicky. May you finally have the peace you deserve.