When 16-year-old Dominique passed away, his mum in Rwanda, and his Australian sponsor, Louise, were devastated. This is the story of how Lou and Denise met for the first time on a dusty road in Rwanda and found peace. Without sharing a language, they understood each other perfectly.
05 Apr, 2017
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, which saw an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed by dominant Hutu forces in 100 days, has always played heavily on Louise Kimberly’s heart.
So when she began working at Compassion Australia in 1995, she knew her first sponsored child was going to be from the African nation torn apart by this civil war. She went to Compassion Australia’s filing cabinets, where there was a folder for every child sponsored or available for sponsorship by Australians. When she locked eyes with Twagilimana Dominique, the eight-year-old’s sad face stood out to Louise and she knew he was the boy she was meant to sponsor.
They formed a special bond — one nurtured through letter writing — and Louise began to imagine a future for Dominique. A future where he wouldn’t have to worry about the burden of poverty. One where he would be able to provide for his family. One where he felt a connection to Jesus.
This beautiful friendship lasted over seven years, until one day, while on maternity leave, Louise heard an unexpected knock at the door. “Joy—who worked for Compassion — was at my door and I was so surprised because it was a work day,” says Louise.
Part of Joy’s job was contacting sponsors to let them know their sponsored child had left the program. This happened for a variety of reasons, including the child’s family moving to another area or their position improving to the point that they no longer required the support of sponsorship. But sometimes the news was much more difficult.
It was on this day, in 2002, as Joy was checking the list of children who had left the program that she saw Dominique’s name. Her heart sank when she read why his name was there; she knew she had to tell Louise in person.
“[Joy] said she needed to tell me that he had died,” recalls Louise. “It was horrible because I felt so much grief and so much anxiety over it even though I had never met him, but I loved him. He was my boy.”
Dominique had passed away from liver problems at the age of 16. Louise was devastated. She wrote a letter to Dominique’s mother, expressing her sadness at his passing and sharing how much she loved him. With the letter, she enclosed one last gift to help cover the cost of his funeral so that this burden wasn’t left to his family in their grief. The reply she received was overwhelming.
“[Dominique’s mother] told me they had used the [gift] money for the funeral and also bought a goat,” she says. “She told me her grief was halved because she knew how much I loved her boy. It was really touching for me to receive that letter.”
The loss hung heavily on her for a long time.
“It felt like broken dreams and I felt [he had been] a bit ripped off that he had gotten to that point and then died,” she says. “He survived the genocide, he survived all the things that could have killed him as a young baby and child… [he] was almost at adulthood when he died.”
In the midst of her grief, Louise sponsored Dominique’s half sister Nikuze Denise. It was a way to stay connected with the family. Knowing their mother would read her letters, she made sure to send her love whenever she wrote to Denise.
She was determined to let them know she was still thinking of their boy.
Then, in 2006, she had the opportunity to visit Rwanda with Compassion. While she wouldn’t be visiting the rural community where Dominique and Denise had grown up, she could organise for Denise to come and meet her—an opportunity Louise jumped at.
When the day came, Louise saw a bus arrive in the distance and noticed that along with Denise and a Compassion staff member, there was another older woman: Denise and Dominique’s mother. It was an emotional reunion, even though they had never met before. They held each other as they both cried in their shared grief.
“She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Kinyarwanda, but you just knew what was being said. You don’t need language in those moments,” says Louise. “It was wonderful for me to be able to meet [Dominique’s] mother and to show her that I still loved her family and she knew—she said to me [through a translator] ‘I know you loved him’.”
Meeting Denise and her mother gave Louise a sense of closure. Being able to continue a relationship with the family through sponsoring Denise, and to invest into her life in the same way she did for her big brother, was very important to her. The chance to meet with the family and hear how well Denise was progressing, with the help of Compassion, was a great comfort.
“It was very healing for me to be able to meet [Dominique’s mother] and speak to her,” says Louise. “She was so thankful for what I had done for the family … it was very emotional.”
More than 20 years after she first began serving children living in poverty by working with Compassion, Louise is still dedicated to her work. Her memories of Dominique continue to bring her a great sense of peace——and remind her of God’s healing power.
Words by Monique Wallace
Photos by Dan Cummings