By STEVE BLOW
Columnist for the Dallas Morning News
Twelve-year-old Fausta Twizerimana makes the second great journey of her life on Friday — and it may be even more improbable than the first.
The odds were against Fausta and her family when they managed to leave a refugee camp in Tanzania for the long flight to a place called Dallas.
The odds were surely even longer that Fausta would now be headed to New York for a highly competitive three-week workshop with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
“I feel nervous and happy at the same time,” Fausta told me this week with her shy, beguiling smile.
This is a story of accomplishment by Fausta, but it’s also a story of relationship between Fausta and the woman she has come to think of as a godmother. Maybe even a fairy godmother.
One summer day eight years ago, Dallas lawyer Dolena Westergard was at her East Dallas church, Grace United Methodist, for a volunteer project that wasn’t panning out. But her life changed that day when she bumped into a bedraggled refugee family just off the plane from Africa.
“They were so, so tired and jet-lagged,” Dolena recalled. “It was a very hot day but they were all wearing sweatshirts that the refugee agency had given them.”
Grace Church hosted a refugee assistance office in those days. But the family’s biggest help came from bumping into Dolena — and by extension, the larger Grace family.
That first week, parents Jean and Francine and their six children returned to Grace for Sunday services. In the greeting line for newcomers, Dolena held 4-year-old Fausta and a bond was formed.
“She was so sweet. She said, ‘Hi!’ ‘Hi!’ to everyone. She just mimicked what she was hearing,” Dolena said.
She and others at the church became steadfast friends to the family, helping in so many ways. Three of the six children would end up in the hospital in those first few weeks, including Fausta. Two with malaria. One with internal parasites.
Jean works 12-hour days at a window manufacturing plant. Francine works in housekeeping at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Getting the kids to school and other activities has largely fallen on Dolena and other church members.
Dolena noticed something pretty quickly about Fausta. “She was always singing and moving, doing her own little choreography.”
She enrolled Fausta in classes at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. “I loved it!” Fausta said, her eyes lighting up. That was four years ago, and she’s been a regular ever since.
I asked about her favorite style of dance. “Ballet,” she said. “I love learning new things at the barre. And jazz! It’s very jazzy. And …” She went on to name virtually every form of dance.
Notice went up earlier this year that the prestigious Dance Theatre of Harlem would be conducting auditions in Dallas for its summer workshop.
“I figured that learning to audition was part of becoming a dancer,” Dolena said. “So we signed her up. We had no expectation of anything coming of it.”
And Fausta got in. “I was happy. I almost cried,” she said.
Of course there were details to deal with — like plane fare to New York and expenses of $3,000. But as always, God and Grace Church provided.
“It just happens. That’s the way Grace is,” Dolena said. “It’s in the spirit of the people.”
So Pastor Judith Reedy and parishioner Mary McLaud will accompany Fausta to New York on Friday and help her get settled in. Dolena will retrieve her in three weeks.
Life is rich in improbable journeys. Years ago, a young man from Burundi and a young woman from Rwanda ran for their lives to a refugee camp in Tanzania.
On Saturday night, in New York City, their little girl will sit in a grand theater on Broadway for a story of Africa called The Lion King.
Dallas Morning News article