Through her eyes, the moving story of a young Rwandan girl born with clubfeet and the risk she takes for the chance to walk on the bottoms of her feet for the first time.
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 US 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. A stunning debut about hope, perseverance, and what becomes possible when you take a risk.
About the Author
Meredith Davis worked at an independent children’s bookstore and started the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators before earning her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives and writes in Austin, Texas.
Rebeka Uwitonze goes to school in Kayonza, Rwanda, and spends her holidays at her home in Bugesera. She was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that caused her joints to contract, resulting in stiffness, clubfeet, and muscle atrophy in her arms. Her Own Two Feet is her debut book, in which she is able to share her inspiring story with the world. To find out more about Rebeka, go to herowntwofeet.com.
Read an Excerpt
Rebeka traced the shape of her curled feet through the blanket that covered her and her little sister, Medeatrece. Everybody was asleep and she needed to go to the bathroom. She wanted to go by herself, without bothering anybody, but she was also afraid. Wild dogs roamed the Rwandan countryside after dark and could easily get into her yard. She heard no howling, so maybe they were nowhere near.
She wriggled out from under the covers and scooted to the end of the bed. It filled up almost the entire room, wedged between two mud walls with just enough space for the door to swing open.
“Shhhh, Medea. Go back to sleep,” Rebeka whispered.
Rebeka could see the whites of her little sister’s eyes in the moonlit room. She wasn’t going back to sleep.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” said Rebeka.
“Me, too,” said Medea, scrambling from under the covers.
“You’re just going because I’m going.” Rebeka knew she should tell her little sister to stay put, but it would be nice to have some company. Besides, it was hard to argue with a stubborn two-year-old. Rebeka crawled across the concrete floor of their home, following Medea outside. She lifted one shoulder and then the other, letting her arms swing forward like pendulums and then placing them back down. Her shadow stretched strange in the moonlight.
“I first!” said Medea, skipping to the latrine. Papa had dug a deep hole a good distance from the house so they wouldn’t smell the stink, and built a small shed around it for privacy.
Rebeka listened carefully for howling or snuffling, but all she heard was the soft breath of a cow and the scratch of a goat moving in his stall. No dogs. She crawled quickly across the red dirt yard. She had long grown used to the grit that dug into her skin. She’d spent her whole life on the ground. But the tough calluses on her knees and knuckles couldn’t protect her if she landed in a pile of goat or cow poo, crawling in the dark. She hoped for the best and kept going.
“Ow!” She brushed the dirt under her knee and picked up something small and hard. Round on one side, pointy on the other, a kernel of maize. Mama had spread a bunch of ears on a blanket to dry in the sun the day before. Rebeka dropped the kernel and crawled the rest of the way to the latrine.
“I done!” said Medea.
“Good job!” Rebeka took a deep breath so she wouldn’t smell the stink and crawled inside. It had taken her a while to figure out how to go to the bathroom on her own, but she’d done it. She had figured out how to do lots of things in her first four years of life. After she was done, she and Medea washed their hands in a bucket. The slippery soap was hard to hold, especially since her middle fingers were always curled stubbornly to her palms.
Once they were done, they shook their hands dry and hurried back to the house. Their bed was still warm as they settled side by side under the blanket, like two kernels of maize on the cob. Medea reached out and tickled Rebeka’s side. She wasn’t ready for sleep, not quite yet, and neither was Rebeka. Nighttime was the perfect time to whisper, whether it was secrets or stories or dreams or just silliness.
It all felt important when it was whispered.
“I play chickens,” said Medea.
“Tomorrow,” whispered Rebeka. “You can chase the chickens tomorrow. Maybe I will chase, too, someday.”
“Rebeka crawl chickens.”
“No, run! Like you, Medea.”
Rebeka sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe magic. Maybe doctors. Maybe God.” She touched her curled toes to Medea’s warm feet. “Go back to sleep.”
“I love you, too, Medea.”