Verena huddled in her hiding place in the church, clinging desperately to her two grandchildren. Panic rose within her, as pungent smoke filled her nostrils. The mob had set fire to the church.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Verena was in the valley of the shadow of death and she knew her only hope was in God. With the baby in her arms and holding tightly to her two-year-old granddaughter, Grace, Verena escaped from the church and hid in a nearby swamp. The cries of people—fighting for their lives—rang out during the night. While hunger gnawed at them and the smell of blood and stagnant water surrounded them, they quietly waited two days for the madness to stop.

It was 1994, in the Ntarama Bugesera district of Rwanda and Grace’s parents had been murdered; along with over a million others in what has become known as the Rwandan genocide.

Grace was unaware of the danger she was in but her grandmother bore the weight of their grief. Verena had lost everything and the children had lost their parents. Verena must now raise these innocent children, even though she was destitute. She prayed and trusted God to care for them.

Three years later, Verena’s prayers were answered when Grace was registered in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program at the Episcopal Anglican Church of Rwanda. Compassion paid Grace’s school fees, provided medical care and living expenses. Grace’s sponsors wrote letters of encouragement, which helped to soften the tragic loss of her parents. At the child development centre, she learned how to pray, how to share and how to be compassionate to the vulnerable.

Grace doesn’t remember the trauma of the genocide. She was unaware of the struggles her grandmother had in caring for her and her brother and—to her—childhood was beautiful.

She even enjoyed her visits to the hospital for her medical check-ups. “To some people a hospital is a scary place. But to me, it’s a life-changing sanctuary,” Grace says.

Her dream job was to become a doctor but she needed to study doubly hard to be accepted into the profession. In Rwanda, at the time, it was difficult for girls to be accepted into science or medicine. But Grace knew she could be a compassionate and caring doctor; so she wasn’t going to let prejudice get in her way.

After completing high school, Grace was enrolled in the Compassion Leadership Development Program to study medicine. In her class at the University of Rwanda, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, there were 85 men and only 15 women.

“Society needs to know that educating the female child is very important for any kind of development. A girl will one day become a mother … so when you educate a girl, you are developing families and society,” Grace says.

Grace became the secretary of the Association of Students of Medicine in Rwanda and she took part in a clerkship on paediatrics, family and community medicine at the Thomas Jeferson University in Philadelphia.

Grace with a patient

At 24 years old, she is now in her final year of university and is serving an internship in the emergency department of the University Central Hospital of Kigali. Each day, she treats patients who are fighting for their lives, just like Verena fought for the life of her and her brother.

“I always tell her that with the kind of love and affection she has received from me and the [Compassion] sponsors, she should always be exemplary to her peers and also offer the same kind of love to vulnerable people,” said Verena.

“I’m certain it’s what made her choose to become a doctor.”

You can sponsor a child like Grace and help them to know they are known, loved and protected.

Words by Doreen Umutesi and Vivienne Hughes

Photos by Doreen Umutesi

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