Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happiest Post Yet!

I haven't yet mentioned this on my blog for privacy and security reasons, but now that everything is resolved I'm going to share about a side project of mine that's been going on for almost 6 months.
On June 25, a young girl came to live with my host family (I was still living there at the time). I've heard conflicting stories about her history, but there was certainly abuse and neglect, and the police had finally taken her away from the grandmother with whom she was staying (when not left to roam the streets). My host brother is a police officer, and he brought her to our batey to live while somebody found her a permanent home.

Once she was no longer with the police, they forgot about her, so I became the 'somebody' who needed to find her a home. The nuns next door helped, and even found a couple of families willing to adopt her, but she refused to leave my host family, which was the best home she'd ever known (not that that is saying much). While I'm grateful to my host family for housing her for so long, there is a reason I moved out at my first opportunity, even if it meant moving into a toolshed. The way I see it is that there's a severe lack of love in that house, and the more this girl realized that, the more she misbehaved, and the worse they responded. While I don't believe they broke any Dominican laws, the psychological and emotional environment they created was painful for me, not to mention how hard it must have been for an 8 year old orphan.

She didn't have anywhere else to go, however, except back to the abusive grandmother (which was a frequent threat from my host family). I seriously considered adopting her: I have a better education, more money, and certainly more chances to make money than almost anybody in my community, and my interaction with kids doesn't involve whacking them with a stick. If my adopting her had been her best option, I'm not sure how I could have refused, but I found a nearby children's home that will be better for her than a 24 year old single guy from a foreign country.

Thus began months of slogging through the Dominican legal system. We're not her family, and we didn't have the legal rights to send her anywhere, so we had to wait for the children's tribunal to prepare her documents. I don't know all the legal issues we had to deal with, but I made a lot of phone calls to a lot of people who all sent me to someone else. I went with the girl herself to the Tribunal to deliver a paper I wrote explaining her situation. I went to try to gather information from her grandmother. I went to the children's home to take pictures of all the playgrounds and homes to convince her that she wanted to go (she immediately did want to go...I think she was already realizing that the host family wasn't a good permanent option).
The start of her brief school career
I waited. I convinced my host family (repeatedly) to keep her for just a few more days and not to send her to her abusive relatives. We all waited. I found people to go with me to the Tribunal to convince the woman working there to hurry up.I  found people to help me make phone calls so they could understand when people explained the situation in Spanish. The girl dropped out of school after a month because she was getting into too many fights. I tried (and failed) to convince my host family that violence doesn't teach people not to be violent. We waited, and called, and visited, and waited, and sent off to Haiti for a Haitian birth certificate, and called, and finally, FINALLY, I got a call on Dec 13 from the children's home saying she could come in the next day.

And fourteenth day of the twelfth month shall henceforth be a day of celebration throughout the land!

Today started with more drama, because a few days ago she finally ran away from the host family and was living with another (wonderfully gentle) woman (where she behaved like an angel), but my host family was still involved and upset. I hope this isn't the cause of another small-town feud, but some people just end up in conflict with everybody anyway. The girl and I and two social workers loaded into a truck and after 5 months and 20 days in limbo, my smart, beautiful little friend arrived at her new home.

As we drove up, she recognized the water tower from the pictures I'd taken and got really excited. She had already warmed up to the friendly social worker (who lives there). She immediately befriended the doctor who did her initial checkup, and laughed about how much one of the nuns there resembles one of the nuns here next to the batey. I think she knew what a big transition this was, because she knew that she wasn't going back and I was going to leave and not take her with me, but she remained happy and confident almost the entire time (she even told me to say hi to some of the people back in the batey!). I left her with people we both trust, happy, safe, and surrounded by toys. In Internet lingo, this was an epic win.
She's actually there! This photo is one of the greatest rewards I've ever earned.
The only way I could possible imagine it going better would have been if she'd already made friends with some of the other kids, but she didn't have a chance to meet them before I left. There was already some chatter going around as I left ("She's 8? So-and-so was wrong, she said 6. What's her name?"). Every time I've seen her out of the influence of my host family, she's befriended other kids very quickly. I'm sure she won't have any problem among all those children who share similar histories.

The children's home has an elementary school (K-8), and they're building a high school (even though she's never spent much time in school, I started teaching her to read and she's a very bright girl. I think she'll be able to catch up quickly). They have doctors and psychologists. They have a church with a priest and nuns (it's a Catholic center). They're growing plants and caring for animals to produce their own food. The kids can stay until they're adults, and there's even money to send them to college. They've got everything. She went from being an abused and neglected orphan to having more support and better opportunities than any of the kids in my batey. And I'm floating! I think if I jumped high enough, I could fly over to give her a hug!

Today was a very happy ending to the 8 difficult years that have been her life so far, and a very happy beginning to her hopeful future. I can go in a week or so to visit and see how she's doing, and from time to time after that. And I'll be one of her padrino/sponsers once she enters their program in a few months. But my job is mainly done, and I'm very content with the result! I set out from the beginning to fight for her best interest, and by the grace of God, we got there. If my PC service ends tomorrow, I can hold my head high and call it a success!

UPDATE (One week later): I still haven't been able to visit her, but I've gotten a few updates, and things are looking good. She came down with some illness, but it was nothing serious and they've got good medical care there. She had a little trouble the first couple of nights, but is now by all accounts very happy. I just heard today that she's already made lots of friends! It sounds like she's adjusting quickly to her new home. What a Christmas present!


  1. Wow Austin! This is incredible. What a challenging and rewarding experience for you, not to mention a total blessing for her! Praise the Lord! Keep us posted on her once you get to visit :)

  2. Austin, I am very happy for both of you. good job. Palo D.