Nine months ago, I met Akouvi.
When I walked into the hot, dusty church in Togo, my eyes found her. As if they had always been looking for her. She was petite, much smaller than the rest of the children in her group. Her brightly colored dress was too large, and one sleeve constantly slipped off of her shoulder.
I’ve tried to identify what it was about her. She had such serious eyes. Eyes that had seen too much.
But her smile. I couldn’t get over it. I made silly faces at her, trying to draw out a grin. And when she rewarded me with one—I literally felt like my heart got bigger, more full.
When I arrived back to my office the next week, I poured over pictures of the children from that project, looking for those eyes. And when I found her, saw that she wasn’t sponsored, I knew what I had to do. I was on the phone with a Compassion representative in seconds. I didn’t check my bank account or my budget. I just knew I had to sponsor her.
In my first letter, I told her that I had met her, and asked her if she remembered me. She did. I’m sure that dusty little church hadn’t seen many white visitors. I sent her pictures of snowy Colorado, and she drew me pictures of mangoes and crooked houses.
I can’t explain how one comes to love a child who they hardly know. But I can say that I felt like Akouvi was part of my family. I loved her. And so often in her letters, she told me that she loved me too.
I don’t think I understood the depth of my love for her until February 23. That’s the day that I found out Akouvi had died. That’s the day I felt like something had cracked open inside of me, filling me with red-hot grief. Sadness that burned so fiercely that even my tears could not extinguish it.
Eight-year-old little girls are not supposed to die.
They are supposed to play with their friends and sing silly songs. They are not supposed to be carried away from the hospital by their grieving family to the village cemetery.
I don’t know what grieving Akouvi should look like. I can’t go to her funeral, or carry a casserole to her home. I can’t hug her mother, or comfort her sister.
All I can do is cling to the hope that she is in a better place. Believe that in her final days, she was surrounded by people who loved her. People who had done absolutely everything in their power to save her. Believe that she passed from this world, immediately into the arms of her Father. That poverty and sickness are not even memories for her anymore.
I know Akouvi is healed and whole now. I am so incredibly blessed that she was part of my life for 9 months. But the reality that we live in a fallen world, where little girls die, is heavy on my heart right now.
Akouvi, you are missed. Keep smiling sweet girl.
And I will try to smile with you.