Rebeka Uwitonze was born in Rwanda with curled and twisted feet, which meant she had to crawl or be carried to get around. At nine years old, she gets an offer that could change her life. A doctor in the U.S. might be able to turn her feet. But it means leaving her own family behind and going to America on her own.
Her Own Two Feet tells Rebeka’s inspiring story through her eyes with the help of one of her hosts. She travels from Rwanda to Austin, Texas, to join the Davis family, despite knowing almost no English. In the face of dozens of hospital visits and painful surgeries, Rebeka’s incredible bravery and joyful spirit carry her to the opportunity of a lifetime.
This story is both heartwarming and horrifying. Heartwarming because of all the love and support Rebeka is given by her family and U.S. host family. Horrifying because of all the medical procedures and pain the poor girl goes through. No one should have to experience that much pain, especially a child.
Many people in Rebeka’s village called her ‘cripple’ and ‘hardly human.’ The phrase ‘hardly human’ got to me more than ‘cripple.’ ‘Cripple’ is still not a nice word, but it makes more sense than ‘hardly human.’ It’s not even a real thing. Having club feet or any other physical disability does not make someone ‘hardly human.’
Traveling from Rwanda to Austin, Texas, Rebeka goes through some major culture shock. Growing up going to the bathroom in a hole and gathering water from a well, she experiences clean running water and indoor plumbing. Even though the American house is nice, she still wants to be home because that’s where her family is.
I could go on and on about all the things I love about Rebeka’s story. I admire her determination to walk. She goes through so many changes and challenges, but she’s also experienced so much. My favorite part is the message that Rebeka’s parents instilled in her: ‘Chance comes once,’ meaning that you must take every opportunity you are given. Her parents took every chance they could to help their daughter, even if that meant sending her away. You can’t read her story and not become emotionally invested in it.
The book includes so many photos, and I love them all. It made a real difference because I had a hard time picturing what Rebeka’s twisted feet looked like based only on the descriptions. But there aren’t just pictures of her feet. There are pictures of her riding a go-kart, dressed as Minnie Mouse for Halloween, and seeing the ocean for the first time.
Be sure to read the notes at the end of the book written by Rebeka Uwitonze herself and Meredith Davis, Rebeka’s U.S. host mother.
I recommend this story to everyone, especially fans of I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives, written by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda, and Liz Welch.