Her name is Scovia. She was the first child at Village of Hope to introduce herself to me. She said hello, and I asked her what her name was.
“Scovia,” she said.
“What a beautiful name.” I asked her how old she was, and she replied 14.
And then she said, “I would like to become your best friend.”
At first, I couldn’t understand what she was saying. So I asked her to repeat what she said.
“I want to be your best friend.”
I told her I would love to be her best friend. She smiled, and I gave her a hug.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Scovia?” I asked. “I would like to be a social worker,” she said.
“And why is that?” “Because, I want to give hope to children in Uganda.”
She said it just like that. Bold and profound. Very serious. Aware of her dream, and determined to make it reality.
She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful heart. And beautiful dreams. I had to leave to finish our tour of the village, but I promised her that we would get to know each other better soon. And I took her picture before I left.
The next day I saw her again. I waved and smiled as we were leading an activity.
Then in the early evening, the children performed their welcome dances for us. There is NOTHING like African dancing. The children are all so good. So rhythmic. So talented. They dance beautifully. From the soul. With passion and life.
During one of the dances, a lot of the girls on our team got up to join the children. I stayed back to take pictures of them dancing with the kids. But my heart wanted to dance to the beat of the African drums. So, I went up to join. Scovia found me immediately. It was a partner dance, and she wanted to dance with me.
I asked her how to do the dance, and she tried her best to teach me. I kept telling her, “I’m not very good at this,” which was obviously true. But she just said, “No, no, you are doing good!” Another girl came up to me and tied a piece of folded fabric around my waist. The girls fold the beautiful African fabric around their waists before their dancing to emphasize the way they shake their hips. And boy, can they shake their hips! My attempt was utterly embarrassing.
Before we danced, Scovia said to me, “I have a letter for you.” Again, I had to ask her to repeat what she said, but once she did I understood. She had written me a letter. I knew right then that we had a very special connection and that I would never forget her.I thanked her and told her I would get it from her later that day and write her a letter back. I gave her a big hug.
Then it was time for the two of us to go up in front of everyone and do our partner dance. The way it works is that two girls go up at a time, while everyone else waits in a line behind them. When the pair goes up, they stand by the boys who are drumming and face each other. They do one dance for about twenty seconds, maybe less, which basically requires shaking your booty (not that that’s what they would call it!) Then, a girl blows a whistle to tell them to switch directions and face the line of girls waiting for their turn. This time, they do another short dance, where they shake their hips side to side as if hula hooping. The girl blows the whistle again, and the pair returns to the back of the line.
I was of course awful in my attempt at the dance, but it was so much fun. I shook my hips with all I had. The girls were absolutely cracking up at me. They loved my embarrassing attempt at their cultural dance. And loved laughing at it even more. I felt so alive when I was dancing with Scovia. I rejected all of those feelings of being scared, nervous, or not good enough. I was not embarrassed. I just danced. I danced with everything I had. I felt more alive than I can ever remember feeling before. I loved every second of it.
The next day, Scovia handed me the letter she wrote me. It was folded up into a small square. I opened it up, and saw a page of lined paper filled with red writing. This is what it said (there was no punctuation in the actual letter, but I added it to help it read easier):
Hello my best friend,
I am Scovia who would like to be your best friend, and I know that God will make us to be friends forever. And I know that if you go back to America we will be praying for each other. And I know that God have special plan for your feature (future) and God do to I too. And he love you so much and I love you too. I will never forget you in my heart, and I know that if you go back to America, you will still come back and see me again. And I request you to send my greeting to your family and say to them that I love them so much. May God bless you. Thank you.
With much love,
I don’t know her whole story. I didn’t pry her to find out. I do know that Scovia was one of the original fifty children who lived in a safehouse before coming to Village of Hope. This was at least a year ago, meaning that she was only 13 then. And even younger when she was a child soldier. And even younger when she was abducted. She has no family. The other children and the house mothers at Village of Hope are her family. God is her family.
I wrote Scovia a letter, too. I gave it to her our last evening at the village. That night she was very sad. So I asked her if she wanted to come talk with me in private, just the two of us. She wanted to, and so I found two chairs, and we sat down to talk.
When I asked her how she was doing, she replied, “I am sad. I am very sad.”
I asked her why. “Because you are leaving tomorrow. I do not want you to leave. It makes me sad.”
I spent the next twenty minutes or so telling Scovia that she should be happy, not sad. I told her that although I was sad to leave her, I was more joyful because I had come to Uganda, to Village of Hope, and met her. Because we were now best friends. I told her that was a reason to be happy, not sad. That we should be joyful and thank God that he brought us together to be friends.
I told her that she inspired me. That I would carry her with me in my heart wherever I go. That she gives me hope and strength. I told her I would never forget her. And that I would be praying for her. And praying that God would bring me back to Village of Hope Uganda so that I could see her again and spend more time with her. And that when that day comes, she will be older and taller. Smarter. In secondary school. Well on her way to becoming the greatest social worker in all of Uganda. Because she is such a strong girl. With such a big heart. And so much hope. I told her she was going to be a leader and a role model in her country. That she would bring hope to so many children in Uganda. I told her to read my letter whenever she gets sad or misses me, and that I would read her letter whenever I felt the same. I took her picture, and promised her I would hang it on my wall next to her letter. So that I could look at them every day. Remember her every day. Pray for her every day. I promised her I would come back to Uganda, and back to Village of Hope. I generally hate making promises like that in Africa, because the truth is you never know. It’s God’s plan, not mine. But then, in that moment, I knew that God was going to bring me back to that orphanage to see Scovia again. To encourage her. To learn from her.
And then, I prayed for her.We held hands, and I prayed out loud. I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard. So strong. So pure. Straight from my heart, out of my mouth, to God. I will never forget that intimate time I spent with Scovia that night.
You see, children like Scovia have been through more than we in America can even imagine. Their strength is undefinable. They have suffered, and God has grown them through that suffering. They are desperate from that suffering, and thus turn to God with every ounce of their heart. They trust Him with their whole life. They don’t have parents, and so they really look to God as their Father. They are grateful for everything. They praise Him all the time. In a more beautiful way than we know here. With so much passion and love. Scovia is a beautiful, special girl. She is strong. She has hope. She is such a true leader and role model for others. She will be Uganda’s greatest social worker. And she will bring hope to many children in Uganda. She has a beautiful future ahead of her.
And although she is only 14, she is teaching me what true faith looks like. What true resilience looks like. What true hopes and dreams look like. How to love. How to praise. How to be grateful. How to turn our heartaches into something beautiful. She is my teacher.
She is my new best friend.
And I look forward to the day that I am able to return to Village of Hope Uganda and greet her with a huge hug.
But until then…I will read her letter. Look at her picture. Pray for her. And learn from her.