Adopting Haitian twins in the Dominican Republic
Adoption | A reality story
by Sharla Megilligan
Posted 3/21/15, 02:53 pm
I met Sharla Megilligan a little more than a decade ago. She was getting her master’s degree at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and took my class on poverty fighting. She was a good student and a good writer, and soon proved to be a doer by creating a nonprofit organization, Makarios, that brings to the Dominican Republic and other countries effective compassion for the poor. But Sharla didn’t stop there. She also fought through great difficulty to adopt two Haitian children.
Our Saturday Series package below starts with some bragging about her by the LBJ School, continues with brief information about Makarios, and then runs with Sharla’s blogposts about adopting and nourishing her kids. Please read this encouraging reality story. —Marvin Olasky
A care package for Hispaniola:
Sharla Megilligan uses LBJ School tool kit to improve villagers’ lives
In a place where sugarcane workers struggle to make a living—working more than 12 hours and earning as little as $1 per day—it is difficult to get an education. Parents who are able to send their children to school find overcrowded classrooms equipped with a chalkboard, chalk and little else. In the Dominican Republic and other parts of Hispaniola, where many live in extreme poverty, life is hard and getting an education is just as tough.
Beginning in 1997, Sharla Megilligan (M.P.Aff. 2004) spent four years teaching at an American school in the Dominican Republic. While there, she visited a friend who was helping in a Haitian village on the country’s north coast. After that visit, Megilligan knew what she must do to help the people in that part of the world.
“I had been to poor Dominican Republic villages,” she said, “but I had not seen squalor like this. I began doing research and learned that there are over a million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic and their children have limited access to education.”
According to her, the law in the Dominican Republic allows Haitian children to attend school, but since the classrooms are often overcrowded, the Haitians are the first be turned away.
“While a number of organizations are working in these bateyes—the villages where sugarcane workers and their families live—very few are addressing educational needs and none are working in the 17 bateyes on the north coast,” she related. “So I decided to return to the states, go to grad school, and start an organization to address these needs.”
Since that trip in March 2002, Megilligan has earned her master of public affairs degree; established a nonprofit organization called Makarios; and organized drives in the United States to collect computers and peripherals, software, and educational supplies that she transports to the impoverished villages where she works.
Excerpted from an article that originally appeared on Dec. 20, 2004,on the website of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. Read the complete article.
Makarios means “blessed” in ancient Greek and blessed we are. Founded in the spring of 2004 by Sharla Megilligan, Makarios is a faith-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of impoverished people in the developing world through Christ-centered, sustainable educational and outreach programs. …
Makarios’ primary focus is our school, Colegio Makarios, serving kids from three communities. We also offer health and education programs for their families and neighbors in the villages, including English classes in the summer, medical and dental clinics once a year, and sports programs in the summer.
Our school is located in Montellano, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, and currently has seven classrooms from Pre-K3 through sixth grade. The students come to school from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. everyday. Kids ages 3–10 learn about math, manners, language, and most importantly, God! We hope to add a grade each year we grow through high school. When the children complete our program as teenagers, we will work with them to provide vocational training and help them find employment. …
We help meet our students’ physical needs by providing clean drinking water, a vitamin, and two hot meals a day to every child attending school, facilitating access to medical care, and conducting health awareness programs throughout the community. We embrace God’s calling to communicate His love for this particular people group through provision of these physical needs in accordance with what Scriptural directs in Proverbs 31:9 and James 2. …
Though we enjoy assisting children in every way, the most important help we can provide is to point them to the loving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in accordance with Luke 4:18. Our greatest passion is introducing our students and their families to life-changing relationships with Him, as only He can best meet their most dire needs.
Adapted from the Makarios website and republished with permission.
Sharla and the twins
Editor’s note: The dates in the entries below are when Sharla originally posted these thoughts on her blog and may be a little confusing at times, but the sense of immediacy is worth it.
Oct. 10, 2010: Their story. People have often asked me to tell the story of the twins and how they came into my life. I have never gotten all the way through it because it’s long and involved. Maybe this blog will motivate me to do it a little at a time.
This is Isaak when he came to us at 2 months old. The story on his birth and abandonment is not consistent, so we’re not sure what’s true. We know he and Jakob were born by C-section about two months early and weighed about 4 pounds each. Isaak was left in the hospital and got down to about 2 pounds after two weeks of not being cared for. He was almost dead when a missionary doctor and visiting American doctors found him in a hospital bed. They paid for his care, including the antibiotics strong enough to save his life—and made him deaf. His diaper hadn’t been changed in two weeks and he had a rash and infection that ate through his skin. The infection spread through his body.
This picture was taken shortly after he left the hospital, weighing close to 5 pounds. He was still in pretty bad shape, but on the mend. I was only in the country for about two weeks when I first began taking care of him. He slept all day and was up all night. By the end of a week of sleepless nights, I had no coping skills and cried at everything! At this point, I was willing to adopt, but was just focusing on providing the immediate care that he needed. More to come.
Oct. 13, 2010: Here’s Jakob soon after his bio dad dropped him off. He was 4 and a half months old. I always had the feeling that he thought he was too cool to be a baby. He smiled a lot, but was also pretty pensive, taking it all in.
Oct. 15, 2010: The boys have been back together since September of 2006, when they were about 8 months old. At that point, they stayed with the Whites in Santiago much of the time and with me when I was in the country, every other month for a few weeks. At this point I had not decided to adopt them, but God was stirring my heart.
Oct.17, 2010: It wasn’t until the boys were 15 months old that I decided to adopt them, but I also sort of “just knew” from the beginning. We had other foster kids come into our lives in the D.R., but I felt differently about these guys. Not wanting to base a huge decision like this on a feeling, I waiting and prayed about a year before finally acting on it. In the meantime, I was working on getting their paperwork done so that they would be “adoptable” by whoever ended up being their parents. God made it really clear to me one day in April of 2007 that He intended for me to be their mom. On that day, I started what would turn out to be a three-year journey of adoption.
Oct. 19, 2010: Here’s an email I sent out to friends and family soon after I decided to adopt the boys. This is also before I started spelling their names with K’s!
Many of you know about Jacob and Isaac, the famous abandoned Haitian twins that we’ve been taking care of in the D.R. for over a year now. We’ve had a series of ups and downs in trying to make arrangements for them to be adopted, and now it seems that God is opening the door for me to adopt them. Yes me, Sharla, single woman that I am. Haitian adoption laws have recently changed in a way that actually makes it easier for a single woman to adopt than for a married couple.
However, before you offer to help me shop for bunk beds, there’s a lot to be done and a lot that could happen or not happen that will prevent this adoption from going through. So in that sense, I hesitate to tell everyone, as one day I might have to send an email saying “it’s not going to work out.” On the other hand, I don’t want to walk through this on my own, and I know many of you want to pray, help, and be updated, and I appreciate that.
Part of the difficulty is that the boys are Haitian, but were abandoned in the D.R., and neither country’s laws apply to them. I’m working with an adoption agency in Haiti, but it’s quite complicated. Then there’s the matter of the boys’ parents. We need their cooperation in order to make this happen.
Tomorrow, we’re traveling from Santiago, Dominican Republic, to Cap Haitian, Haiti, to begin the adoption process. I’ll be going with the boys (picture attached), their birth parents, and Ben White, who grew up in Haiti but now lives in the D.R. (my Creole translator and Haitian expert!). We have been warned that it could difficult to cross the border as white people with Haitian babies, as it might look like we’re stealing or buying them. We have all the necessary paperwork to cross legally, but Haitian officials are not known for abiding by the laws, especially when there’s a bribe to be had.
Please pray for us as we cross the border tomorrow and then again when we come back on Thursday. My access to email will be limited, but I will send updates when I can.
Oct. 21, 2010: First adoption trip to Haiti was in June 2007. The plan was to go with the twins bio parents to sign abandonment papers at an adoption agency in Cap Haitien. Long story short, it didn’t go as planned—not that we really thought it would. Since we were in the D.R. and the boys were Haitian, the adoption was going to be complicated, and the agency wasn’t sure it was possible. I was able to take care of some of the paperwork needed—the dad got their birth certificates redone (the first set had them being born five days apart!) and we had their medical exams done that are necessary for an adoption. After five days there, we had made progress, but I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about the adoption working out.
Once I decided to adopt the boys, I knew I needed to be in the D.R. more to be their mother. At that point, I was still needed in Austin to keep Makarios afloat, so I split my time 50/50, Austin/D.R. We lived at the Mak house in Puerto Plata and the Whites and a nanny helped when I was gone. I kept up this schedule for about a year, working on the adoption, waiting for paperwork to go through, tracking down their bio dad to take care of more paperwork, etc. The older the boys got, the more difficult it was on them for me to be away. I did my best to be with them more and more. So much of what I do is fundraising, networking, and recruiting. Hard to do that by email, but I knew I needed to be a mom to the boys.
Nov. 29, 2010: Once I moved down to the D.R. to be a mom, the twins and I lived in the Makarios house in Puerto Plata. They were 18 months old at the time, and we were there until they were 3 years old, at which point we got an apartment in Santiago. I continued to work on the adoption and it continued to move along very slowly. It was discouraging and a very difficult time for me personally. I look back and see God’s faithfulness, but it was hard to see it at the time. I felt very alone, even though I had plenty of people in my life who were supportive. The problem was, not many of them lived neared us! I was always worn out and despite having fun with the boys, it felt like the low times came more frequently than the highs.
Jan. 21, 2011: We moved from the north coast to Santiago in February 2009. We got a new apartment, met new neighbors, and the boys started preschool. There was still no end in sight for the adoption, and getting more settled in the D.R. brought mixed feelings. It was good to have our own place and that brought more stability for us as a family. But it was also a reminder that I had no idea when the adoption was going to be done, so I had to buy furniture, a vehicle, and everything in between. We settled into life there and enjoyed being there, in spite of the big unknowns about if and when the adoption would be complete.
Feb. 9, 2011: A year ago this week we left the D.R. to move to Austin. The boy’s first time in America. The big move I had been waiting for and wishing for and dreaming about and doubting would ever happen.
I got a call a year ago tonight from Barbara, the lady working on the adoption in Port-au-Prince. She said the boys’ travel papers were ready and we needed to get there as soon as possible.
We were ready to go—had been waiting a few weeks. Our apartment in Santiago, D.R., was packed for the move and our bags were packed for the trip. It was by far the most stressful time of my life. I had known that at any point we would be moving and our lives would be forever changed, but I also knew that there was a chance the adoption wouldn’t get expedited and I’d be “stuck” longer in the D.R. I was on the brink of either great news or really discouraging news and it was extremely difficult.
I wish I could tell you that in that time I trusted in God so completely that I felt the peace that only He could give. But the honest truth is I was struggling with having to go through yet another huge parenting season on my own. I wanted to trust God’s plan, but I really felt like He was just leaving me to fend for myself. I knew God wasn’t like that, but that’s how I felt and I couldn’t pull myself out or figure out how to let God pull me out.
So I got the call from Barbara and we firmed up our travel plans to Haiti and then on to Florida. A friend of our family had his own plane and was doing earthquake relief work. He had offered to fly us from the D.R. to Haiti and then on to Florida. We set it all up for Wednesday, Feb. 10. On Tuesday, I went to the Santiago airport to make sure they would allow us to fly with Haitians who didn’t have passports. The boys had birth certificates, but we were flying from the D.R. to Haiti to get their travel papers. I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem for Haitians to fly to Haiti without passports.
When we arrived at the airport the next day, different customs officials were working, and the supervisor told me in no uncertain terms that the boys could not fly internationally without passports. I explained the situation and he didn’t care. He was on a power trip and he wasn’t going to let us go.
I was angry. My friend Jamie was there and she later said, “I’ve never seen you that angry!” To which I replied, “I’ve never been that angry!” After three years of working on the adoption and still having a long way to go when the earthquake hit, to having our papers be approved after the earthquake … then this guy at customs in the Dominican Republic is going to keep it all from happening?
So now you’re probably wondering what we did. Because here we are in Austin, so we obviously got out. The short version is, I knew a pilot who had been doing a lot of relief work from the D.R. to Haiti, and I called him to come help. He was able to help in a huge way, and we were able to get on the plane and head to Haiti. If you think I’m being cryptic, I am. I can’t share everything on the interweb.
So we got to Haiti, went to the U.S. Embassy, waited five hours, and finally got the paperwork we needed to leave with the boys (Jamie was traveling with me). We had an armed escort to the plane, and then flew off to Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
We stayed overnight in Fort Lauderdale and then flew from Miami to Austin the next day. The boys were champion travelers and got tons of attention because there were a lot of orphans leaving Haiti at that time and people figured they were among them. We also stood in line at the Miami airport behind Sean Penn and Maria Bello. One was nice the other was weird. I’ll let you figure out which was which.
Feb. 9, 2011: We got back to Austin to a group of friends welcoming us at the airport. We were on the news.
And then it began. Life in American with the twins. People kept asking me how I was doing, and I really didn’t know. It was surreal. It was so glad to be here. But I had just unexpectedly moved from one country to the next with two 4-year-olds. I needed to find a house, a car, schools for the boys (Isaak is deaf, so he needed a deaf ed program), etc, etc. I didn’t have time to process and think about this big life change that had occurred. The boys did great, loved their new schools, loved being in Austin. I was doing OK, but still hadn’t processed.
Until this week. The one-year anniversary of our arrival. Yes friends, it’s happening. I’m processing it. I’m tearing up thinking of them and the opportunities they now have. I’m realizing that God is teaching me now how to trust Him completely with my life and with theirs and that in that process, I find healing and restoration for the hurts and confusions of the past.
I leave for the D.R. on Friday, the one-year anniversary of our arrival. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it’s turned out. And thinking about that makes me process the whole thing even more.
God is teaching me so many things that I wanted to learn a year ago, two years ago, three years ago in my—dare I say—despair(!) of being a single mom and feeling completely overwhelmed and under supported and maybe even forgotten by God. No, I knew He didn’t forget me, but I felt like He had asked me to do this HUGE thing and then sort of left me to fend for myself. I know that’s not right. I know God is loving and kind and faithful and true, but I didn’t “feel” those things back then. And now I do, and it’s bigger than just for this moment, it covers this whole time. Four years of working toward an adoption that looked like it might never go through. Four years of being a single mom to two rambunctious boys who really needed a daddy. So this is me, processing.
Feb. 10, 2012: Tomorrow I’ll be getting on a plane to the D.R., which is exactly two years from the date the twins and I made our escape from the D.R., by way of Haiti. It was, by far, the craziest day of my life. After working on the adoption for three years and having no end in sight, there was an earthquake. We felt it in the D.R., but as you know, the real damage was done in Haiti. For a month I worked on getting relief supplies and workers from the D.R. into Haiti, while simultaneously working on getting everything in order in case our adoption was expedited.
I was living in the D.R. with the boys, so I needed to pack up our apartment, though there was no guarantee we’d get to go to the United States. However, once we did know, we’d only have a day or two to get there. So I had to pack up the place and live on this precipice of either the greatest news ever, or the biggest delay possible. It was, in a word, stressful.
When I finally got the call that we could go to Haiti to pick up their travel papers, we had less than two days to get there. Fortunately, a friend of the family was in the area doing relief work with his jet, and he offered to pick us up in the D.R., take us to Port-au-Prince, wait for us to go to the embassy, and then fly us to Florida. Getting out of the D.R. was actually the biggest hurdle. The boys’ travel papers were in Haiti, and a flight from the D.R. to Haiti is an international one, thus requiring passports and visas. The head immigration official was on a power trip and was not willing to even look at the paperwork I had for the boys. We had to get creative on a solution (legal? maybe), and suffice it to say, it worked, and we made it to Haiti. After six hours in the embassy, we were escorted by the U.S. military to our plane. It was 100 percent crazy.
The transition back to the United States was harder for me than the boys, but we survived and here we are. The adoption is still not complete, and they still don’t have U.S. citizenship, but it’s in process. God is good.
Feb. 11, 2015: Five-year Twinaversary. Today marks the five-year anniversary of our “escape” from the island. The boys had just turned 4 and I had been living with them in the D.R. for three years. We were waiting for both the U.S. and Haitian governments to finalize the paperwork for their adoption so we could live in the United States. The earthquake expedited the process, though I doubt the word “expedite” has ever been used to describe something that took so long. We were in the United States for three more years before the adoption was finalized—six years in total.
The day we left the D.R. for Haiti will likely go down as the craziest day of my life. If anything else happens to surpass it, I’ll be sure to let you know. A pilot from my parents’ church in Pennsylvania offered to come down to the D.R., fly us to Port-au-Prince, wait for us to pick up finalized paperwork at the embassy, and take us on to Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately there’s nothing simple about flying into a country recently wrecked by an earthquake with kids who didn’t have international travel papers.
We spent six hours at the U.S. Embassy waiting for their paperwork. The papers had been ready for a few days, but you know … lunch breaks, island time, etc. Six hours and two cranky twins later, we emerged with the paperwork. It didn’t finalize the adoption, but it was enough to get the boys to the United States as refugees on “humanitarian parole.” Armed guards escorted us to the plane and then … we took off. It’s not strange that an airplane takes off when it’s time to go, but the fact that it happened after the three most difficult years of my life with no end in sight made it seem like a miracle.
And so it was that we landed in Florida on Feb. 10, exactly one month after the earthquake hit Haiti and the D.R. On the Feb. 11 we flew from Florida to Austin, making today our five-year twinaversary. It’s been a wonderfully complicated five years: overwhelming support of friends and community, good schools, Chick-fil-A (!), cochlear implant, and most importantly, the rodeo. If you don’t know, twins + horses = happiness.
The preceding was adapted from blog posts that originally appeared at Spidergirl: An Adoption Story on Not Being a Supermom and are republished with permission.
Sharla is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.