If it's true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, then Vestina Mukeshimana's soul must be singing. This precocious young girl's eyes literally sparkle. But this hasn't always been the case.
Vestina was born in a farming community in northwest Rwanda in 1995. The previous year, the country experienced a genocide that claimed almost 1 million lives, including Vestina's oldest brother. Soon after the war, her father passed away.
Fortunately, in 2001 Vestina began participating in Compassion International's child development program, which provides a safe haven for thousands of Rwandan children experiencing loss after the genocide.
Compassion met many needs for Vestina, including covering her school fees, providing soap, body lotion, even medical treatment and, occasionally, extra food. The program also brought light into Vestina's world.
Shortly after connecting with Compassion International's student center, Vestina's family learned that a sponsor had been found for her. "When I heard that you chose me from the other children," she wrote to her sponsor, "I felt it was like a dream."
In 2002, another of Vestina's brothers died and her remaining brother soon left Kibuye. Early the following year, tragedy struck again. "I am very sad to tell you that my mother died on January 10," Vestina wrote to her sponsor. She then moved to a group home. Fortunately, Compassion's sponsorship program allows staff to care for thousands of children like Vestina, orphaned by war or disease.
"It just melts my heart when I read Vestina's letters and hear about the hardships she's endured," says Vestina's Colorado-based sponsor. "But I believe the project workers in Rwanda are doing all they can for her. Today, I'm more excited about being a sponsor than I was 20 years ago when I started my partnership with Compassion. I'm convinced the program works ... and works incredibly well!"
Enduring so much sadness, Vestina still is making remarkable progress. This healing is evident in one of Vestina's recent letters to her sponsor. "I am doing well," she wrote. "I have drawn a picture for you. It is of myself, you and [my best friend] Ivona."
The colorful drawing is captioned with the only phrase Vestina can write and pronounce in English: "I love you."
Pam Franklin is the managing editor for the communications division at Compassion International. - NU