Sanibel family hopes to welcome pair of Haitian siblings home soon
Three years ago, Sanibel residents Bridgit Stone-Budd and Dan Budd got married, combining their respective groups of three (Bridgit and her teenagers Connor and Kate, Dan and his teenagers Eli and Mariah) into one big, blended island family.
But something was missing.
“When we got married, we knew that we wanted more babies,” Bridgit said. “But that wasn’t in the cards, so we decided to look into adoption.”
In 2008, Dan took Eli and Connor on the mission trip through the Sanibel Community Church to Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
“When the kids were old enough, we decided we wanted them to see how
the other half lived,” Dan said.
“Dominican wasn’t that bad. There were paved roads and regular buildings like hotels and restaurants, but when you walk over to Haiti, it’s immediately 100 percent different. The paved road stops literally at the border and it’s just dirt roads after that throughout all of Haiti,” Connor said of his first impression of the country. “There’s dust in air and there’s trash everywhere, even in the river where the kids were playing. They didn’t care, because they were having fun and they didn’t know any better, but it was really bad. At first it was a shock to the system and then, as the week went on, you got used to it, you grew used to the people there and their customs, like the way they wash clothes and dishes. And the things they do for entertainment are so simple. It’s just remarkable.”
Because Dan and Bridgit were looking to adopt at that point in their lives, they decided to look into the Haitian orphanages.
“We were helping with the mission, but there’s only so much you can do
because it’s like a bottomless pit of need,” Dan said. “So, we thought the best thing we could do to help would be bringing children out of there. It was a natural fit. There were kids available for adoption and so we started the process at that point and we worked at it slowly.”
Bridgit and Dan set to work assembling their dossier — a massive and complex collection of documents detailing everything about the lives of the Stone-Budd clan.
“A dossier is our life, basically, and that’s what we presented to the
Haitian government — psychological testing, home studies, chemical testings, individual interviews with all the kids, fingerprints, everything,” Bridgit said. “I’m seriously going to write a book called ‘Adoption from Haiti for Dummies.’ No matter where I looked or who I asked, nobody could help me get started. There was no help for me here in getting the dossier together.”
Once she thought she had all the appropriate information together, the next step was to send the dossier to Tallahassee for apostilization.
“They sent it back to me three times telling me what to fix before we could have everything notarized,” she said, “and then finally, it was done.”
With their dossier in order, Dan and Bridgit submitted their application to H.I.S. Home for Children, a Port-au-Prince orphanage.
Around the same time, the earthquake hit.
Luckily, Bridgit and Dan still had the dossier in their possession, but the application was lost in the destruction from the quake.
“So, we resubmitted the application and started from scratch,” Bridgit said, “but after the earthquake, there was a ban on adoption, so we had to put everything aside.”
Earlier this year, Dan, who owns Wildseed Construction, returned to Haiti to work on building a second-story for the Mary Austin School in Haute St. Marc, which is about two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, the cargo container full of building supplies that Dan and his fellow missionaries had sent ahead was still tied up in customs when they arrived on Haitian soil.
But in a serendipitous twist of fate, Dan said, the day the cargo container was finally released from customs was the day the Haitian ban on adoption was lifted.
“The next day, Dan called the orphanage. They knew that we wanted a boy and a girl, preferably siblings, but we would take orphan-mates as well,” Bridgit said. “So Dan went to Port-au-Prince and they had a brother and a sister waiting for him, all dressed up, and he got to spend the day with them.”
When Dan returned to the States, he and Bridgit started on the process again, hoping to adopt the brother and sister pair that Dan had visited with in Port-au-Prince.
More than a month ago, they finally received approval from the State of Florida and Dan and Bridgit immediately headed over to the bustling Haitian consulate in Miami to wait in line for a chance to speak with the adoption authorities.
After discovering their purpose, a security guard waved them out of the long line and into the office where they took a number and waited some more.
“The people that work at the Haitian consulate are beautiful, proper and dressed to the nines,” Bridgit said, recalling her first journey into the consulate office.
But disappointment and panic soon followed.
When she proudly handed over her self-made dossier, the woman in charge of such documents said that, despite the fact that all the necessary papers were there, the presentation was sloppy and she told Bridgit that whoever put the packet together obviously didn’t know what they were doing.
Bridgit sheepishly raised her hand and took the blame.
“I think she felt bad that I was the one who had done it and told me that people typically hire someone to arrange their dossiers and put everything into a nice presentation folder. She put everything in order, paper-clipped each section, handed it to me and told me not to rearrange the pile, attach the French translations to sections and make three copies of each,” Bridgit said. Bridgit, who works as the marketing director of the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce, noted that she was very grateful that a Chamber co-worker had graciously translated all of their documents for free before they went to the consulate.
“I started freaking out and Dan was trying to calm me down,” Bridgit said. “We couldn’t make copies at our hotel across the street, so they sent us to a Kinko’s. We couldn’t find it and nobody we asked knew where it was. So, we’re hoofing it all through Miami — running, soaking wet with sweat — and we finally find the Kinko’s.”
Dan and Bridgit, taking care not to rearrange the piles, spent almost two hours copying each section of the dossier in triplicate and, just to please the woman at the consulate, Bridgit bought a pretty presentation folder to hold all the documents.
“We were fresh and clean at nine that morning, but by the time we got back to the consulate we were drenched and I had mascara pouring down my face,” she said.
The woman, who was appreciative of the nice folder, took another look at the dossier and said they should come back the following Tuesday at one so that the consulate would have time to look over all of the paperwork and write a letter of approval to the Haitian government.
Dan and Bridgit went back a week later for their appointment and, after everything was found to be in order, the woman asked them to sign the papers and then told them congratulations.
“I started crying and I wrapped my arms around her,” Bridgit said, laughing as she recalled her outburst of emotion in the company of such prim and proper Haitians.
The siblings, who for privacy reasons will be referred to as “J” (a one-year-old girl) and “R” (a three-year-old boy), then underwent medical testing to make sure they were healthy and, aside from suffering from mild anemia, both children were found to be in perfect health.
“When they took them to the hospital for their testing, it really made this feel real for me. It means they’re going to have a home,” Bridgit said, adding that only a few days before her interview with The Sanibel-Captiva Islander, the orphanage informed her that “J” had started walking on her own.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be really different,” Kate said. “I’m looking forward to meeting J.”
“I think it’s going to be fun. I’m excited about doing J’s hair,” Mariah said.
“Doing hair is like family time in Haiti. In America, when you eat or watch television together, that’s family time. In Haitian culture, doing hair is bonding times for girls,” Kate said.
“We’ve been learning how to do Haitian baby hair and my two teenage
girls will be perfect for it!” Bridgit said, noting that both she and Dan have also been studying Haitian Creole for the past two years.
Later this year, during the week of Thanksgiving, Dan, Bridgit, Eli, Mariah, Connor and Kate will all be going down to Port-au-Prince to visit their new family members.
They will split their time handing out toys and clothes and playing with children at the orphanage and working at the Mary Austin School in Haute St. Marc.
“One of the orphanage’s newest projects is bringing all the teen female
refugees out of the tent cities and up to the Mary Austin School because they’re being sexually and physically abused. They want to teach these girls vocational skills because they’re too old to be adopted,” Dan said, adding that the orphanage is also is looking for items for teenagers, such as clothing and shoes, in addition to things for babies and small children, like formula (not soy-based), vitamins and diapers.
To learn more about what you can give to H.I.S. Home for Children in Port-au-Prince, go to www.hishomeforchildren.com.
Throughout the entire adoption process, Bridgit said there were times where she was unsure if everything was going to work out. But after waiting all this time, she says that she and Dan are so grateful to have made it through the process with two beautiful babies waiting for them on the other side.
“As soon as they get to the Miami airport they will become U.S. citizens. We’re still anywhere from three to 12 months from getting the babies here,” Dan said. “The sooner the better, but we’re just going to have to take it one day at a time.”