For those of you who aren't familiar with Olivia, I highly suggest you click here: Meet Olivia Manirafasha, for an introduction to our sweet girl and here: An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, for an incredible update on her story!
“Oh, Olivia.” I sometimes whisper those words with a smile when I see her precious face.
After all, it’s kind of hard not to fall in love with those shining eyes and that crooked-toothed grin! And when I realized that it’s been months since I last gave you all an “Olivia update” I couldn’t wait to dig up some new pictures of her! Our precious girl has been thriving since her family’s transition to their new home. As I shared with you in my previous update, An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, Olivia has received medical treatment at a well-known orthopedic center in Rilima and she is now walking all over the place!
She was quite the star at Shelter Them’s Christmas party that was held for all of our children! Isn’t she precious?
I still find myself shaking my head at her total transformation. From a helpless, crippled child crawling through the gutters with no hope and no future, Olivia has opened her arms to embrace the possibilities and is taking over her world with her dimpled grin. She pushes herself in every way. She hasn’t let her past hold her down, not one bit… and there’s far more to that mind of hers than we first realized.
When our team first met Olivia, they were told that she was physically and mentally handicapped. In the above photo, her mother supports her as she tries to dance to the music. She was completely unable to stand on her own. But as I studied the photos and videos more closely, I started believing that “mentally handicapped” was an unfair label. Olivia displays signs of cerebral palsy, which doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence at all. How terrible, I thought, with everyone thinking you are mentally challenged. Locked in a body that won’t obey you, trapped by a faltering tongue, and with poverty shoving you down and refusing to allow you a voice. My suspicions were confirmed when I watched a video of Olivia and Jules, who runs the Rwanda branch of Shelter Them, having a conversation about the family’s then-recent move.
Jules: “What should we tell the twins?”
Olivia: “We moved!”
Jules: “You moved?”
Jules: “How is your new place?”
Olivia: “We moved to a very beautiful place!”
Jules: “What should we tell them?”
Olivia: “Thank you and may God bless you!”
That, I thought, doesn’t sound like a mentally handicapped child to me. That sounds like a normal child her age… well, one who has never had a chance at any kind of education anyways; especially if she was treated as less-than-intelligent.
As it turns out, I was right… because as soon as Olivia finished her treatment at Rilima Othopedics Center and began walking, our team turned to the next thing on the “Olivia Bucket List”; school!
In the words of Jules; “I remember her asking me: ‘Uncle, will you take me to school? Will you buy me books?’ Her statement pushed me to go for seeking appropriate school for her.”
It wasn’t long after that that we got the news: A school had been found, and Olivia had taken a big step forward and begun the 100 km journey away from her family to attend a boarding school for special-needs students.
In the above picture, Olivia (on the left) stands with a new friend and classmate that she met at school. Our little “butterfly girl” is bursting out of her cocoon and soaring off to new adventures! With an education, nothing will be able to hold her back… I dream of seeing her become a motivational speaker and/or advocate for handicapped children.
Looking at this photo, it’s amazing how far she’s come… in just two years, Olivia has gone from being a “gutter child” with no future to a sassy, confident diva with a heart-stopping grin! Even her physical stature is changing… she’s grown so much taller and stronger.
No longer can we call Olivia "handicapped"… I think she’s proven herself to be more than “handi-capable!”
I just can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next!