Meeting “My girl, Florence”

Note: This blog post is not about my photography, but about my experience meeting Florence (the child I have sponsored for four years through Food for the Hungry.) Actually, the only photos I took in this post are the three included in the first collage of Florence. My husband, Bill, and other members of our team, so wonderfully captured the rest of these moments for me so I could be fully present, but also never forget.  These images are priceless to me. I hope you enjoy!

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We had just entered into the “guest house” after the most unforgettable welcome into Nyabikiri when I heard “Kate, this is Florence!”

I looked across the room and there was a girl, smaller than I imagined, wearing a blue school uniform and looking at me with very shy eyes. I went and knelt down beside her and, out of nowhere, the tears started flowing. It was so incredibly good to see her!

Four years ago, my husband Bill and I, went to an “informational meeting” at our church about the partnership they were starting with a village in Rwanda. While we were there, there was a table filled with child sponsorship packets of kids who lived in this village. Bill and I both decided to each begin sponsoring a child. It is crazy to think that I had randomly picked Florence among the many faces on the table and that years later it would bring me to this moment in Nyabikiri.

After corresponding through letters for years, here she was – standing in front of me. I was overwhelmed with emotion.

The children of Nyabikiri began studying English in 2008. They speak fluent French and the native language of Kinyarwandan (and let’s just say my French and Kinyarwandan are p-p-pathetic compared to Florence’s two years of English!), so although we could exchange simple phrases – I was thankful for our country host and interpreter, Paul, who was standing next to me when I met Florence, so I could truly tell her what was on my heart. For some reason, you get to the point quickly in a moment like this. I told her how long I have wanted to see her face to face, how beautiful she is and how God is good for bringing us together. She smiled  – staring at the ground – tears still filling my eyes. I told her how happy I was to be in Nyabikiri and that I could not wait to meet her family.

I have to say, I was not expecting to meet Florence, literally within minutes of arriving in Nyabikiri and was taken a bit off-guard when she was standing before me. (I was still absorbing “I AM IN RWANDA!”) I had nothing pre-planned to say and let my heart do the talking. I am sure I rambled on, didn’t make much sense and she probably wondered why I was crying, but I was just reacting and, honestly, feeling the pressure of this amazing opportunity to look her in the eyes and tell her how much I loved her. Thankfully, I didn’t let the opportunity pass me by. In that moment I felt like I was exactly where I should be. That is the most perfect feeling.

She then walked Bill and I over to meet her father. In addition to farming, he is one of the school cook’s and was preparing lunch. (I was fascinated with the school food program and want to tell you more about this, perhaps in another post) This is a dirty job. He works over a fire and in a soot filled mud hut, cooking corn meal and lentils. He is a proud man with a soft demeanor. He gave both Bill and I a firm handshake and then looked at us again – straight in the eyes- almost as if he was looking for permission… and the world softened…he then gave us each a hug.

Through Paul’s help, I was able to tell him what an honor it was to come to Nyabikiri and meet him and his family, that I can see how hard he works, how wonderful I think his daughter is and how proud he must be. He smiled, like a proud father you would find anywhere in the world. We also told him we were headed to his house now to meet his wife and other children. He smiled, nodded and we hugged again. So much unsaid, but really no need to talk further- we had each said the important stuff.

We were then off to meet Florence’s mom and her other siblings. We took the van part of the way and then walked a bit. Knowing that Florence walks this distance everyday, it was a humbling reminder knowing that I drive just a few miles to work.

Florence and I walked ahead of the group – leaving our interpreter, Paul, behind – so we didn’t talk on the way, but just walked side by side in silence. It was perfect and peaceful.

Her mom… She was instantly wonderful. I love this photo! (thank you, Bill, for capturing this!!)

She invited us into her home and six of us piled in. We sat in the small, very dark, front room -about 5×8 feet in size. It had two benches and bags of grain along the wall.

I was able to tell her what a blessing it was to be in her home. That I shared in her love for Florence and that it was wonderful to meet her other children as well. I told her that I have promised many people from my home that I would share with her that they are sending their love and prayers too. A big beautiful smile emerged!

I then presented her and Florence with some gifts I had brought (crayons, paper, calendars -with photos of Colorado, etc), but my favorite gift was a photo album that I had made for them.

Before we left Denver I took photos of all the pictures that Food for the Hungry has sent me over the last four years, of Florence, as a part of my child sponsorship and put them in a photo album. What a thrill to watch her as we flipped through the book and her smile as she could see her daughter grow up. Florence was peering over our shoulder and every once in a while you could hear her giggle. (Loved it!) I also included pictures of Bill, me and our daughter, Mica. She had previously asked about where my daughter was?!? (Good Question!!) I explained it was too long of a journey and that she was staying with my mother. She nodded. I did wonder if she thought that this was completely absurd, but she gave me no indication of this. I just wondered.

As we were setting the album down, Florence left for a moment and quickly returned…she was holding the very first photo I had sent her. It was of Bill and I, taken just weeks after we were first married. We all smiled and added it to the album! So great!

It was time to go, so we took a quick photo…

but as we were leaving, Florence’s dad arrived.. clean and dressed in his best. WOW! What a compliment and an honor that he rushed home, cleaned up and wanted to be there to welcome us and meet his family. We, of course, took another photo. (smile!)  What a great and loving family!

Throughout our time in Nyabikiri, we continued to see Florence, her parents and her siblings at church, on the school grounds, etc…. I even met her older sister who was not home during our visit. But each time- hugs and appreciation went flying back and forth. I did not find out, until after our first visit, that Florence’s mom is actually expecting another child. This will be her sixth child. I will be so eager to hear the news of her new baby!

It is exciting to think about sending and receiving my next letter and how our relationship will continue in the years ahead. “Wow!”… is all I can say. What a true blessing, in the most sincere sense of the word, to have met “My girl, Florence.”

xo

Kate

ps- If you want to see more from our journey to Rwanda, please click HERE.  It will bring you to a photo slideshow, of my personal work that I created from our time in Rwanda… I really hope you check it out, if you haven’t seen it yet. Let their smiles pull your heart strings.  Amazing, incredible, unforgettable Rwanda!!

If you want to learn more about sponsoring a child in Nyabikiri, click HERE.

AshLee RominesSeptember 3, 2010 - 8:54 pm

Hey Kate! I volunteer with FH in Haiti, and I can’t tell you how encouraging this story was to read!! You truly reminded me why I do what I do 🙂 Thank you!

Debra SteeleSeptember 3, 2010 - 8:20 pm

What an inspiring story. Your words and pictures transported me right to the room you shared with Florence and her family. It is through your story that God’s word can be seen and a seed be planted in the hearts of those who are willing to listen. Thank you for being a voice for change and an on going end to poverty thru sponsoring a child. We are all God’s unique creations, God is looking upon you and saying “Good and faithful servant”. Continue to be a servant for the poor and a good steward of the gifts God have abundantly given you. Thank you for sharing your wonderful and moving story.

LeahSeptember 3, 2010 - 5:05 pm

What a wonderful experience!How lucky you are to have met Florence and her family. And how lucky she is to have you as her sponsor!

Wendy MSeptember 3, 2010 - 1:28 am

Hi Kate. I work for Food for the Hungry in the US and know many of your friends at Pathways!

What a beautiful account in words and photos of your meeting with Florence and her family. I will be sharing this with everyone I know. 🙂

Dick GillaspieSeptember 3, 2010 - 12:21 am

What a wonderful story!!

Cindy LeeSeptember 2, 2010 - 9:22 pm

So glad we can write our comments, I am too choked up to say anything! What a beautiful story of truly beautiful people and children! My heart is thrilled to “witness” your enriching experience, thanks again for sharing.

jenna walkerSeptember 2, 2010 - 9:07 pm

why am i sitting here in TEARS! she is beautiful! you and bill are beautiful people! you spread joy – and love…and there is nothing better my friend.

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