One could say the two Haitian siblings were much too young to leave their parents at ages 10 and 8, to go live in America with a family friend.
But Stephania Germain and her brother Ruggue did leave their family’s embrace in search of what their parents hoped would be a better life.
It has taken three years for them to find that life, but the time in between was filled with physical and emotional abuse, the children say.
Now the young siblings are safe with a foster family, but still are traumatized from their first three years without a loving caretaker looking out for them. They are thriving in the Miami home of foster mom Gale Dooley, and she wishes nothing more than to erase every one of the bad memories.
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“My heart goes out to them,” said Dooley, 61, a foster mom for 20 years. “Cause I know what they’re going through. I know how they miss their parents, and I know how they miss their siblings.”
One thing Dooley wants for her kids, both students at Benjamin Franklin K-8 Center, is to shower them with affection to help them smile. But she can’t afford to get them luxuries. A bad left knee has left her partially disabled and unable to work.
While the state provides financial help for the children’s basic needs, the extras, like family vacations, must wait.
The two would love to take their foster parents on a short vacation to Disney World or Busch Gardens, but there’s no money. And, kids being kids, they would love some toys: Stephania’s wish is for a Nintendo Wii and Michael Jackson: The Experience, a dance party game for the console. Ruggue, who has an inquisitive mind, would like a PlayStation Vita and some games to go with it.
“It speaks volumes that they would share unselfishly” with the foster parents, said Shurnette Moss, of the Center for Family and Child Enrichment, which nominated the children for Wish Book.
The children and their foster parents consider each other family and have developed a bond. Ruggue was only supposed to stay with Dooley for a weekend, Moss said.
“But they fell in love,” Moss said of the parents. “They incorporated the children into their entire lives. They cook Haitian food and are taking Creole lessons.”
“I can’t think of anyone else that would be more deserving,” said Moss, who has been the children’s case manager since September 2012.
The pair was born two years apart in Saint-Louis-du-Sud, about 96 miles from Port-au-Prince. The family, now six children, moved around – to Carrefour, a small commune some five miles from the capital, then to La Plaine, a small farming village in Northwest Haiti.
By then, the family decided it would be best for the youngest members to leave home to better themselves in America. In 2010, the parents arranged for their children to live temporarily with a family friend in Miami.
After making it to Miami, however, things did not go well.
The friend’s attitude changed. The children – especially Stephania – say they were abused.
The family friend “didn’t like me any more,” Stephania said.
The children were not able to tell anyone what they were experiencing.
“Every time we were on the phone with them, we had to stay in the room with the people we were living with,” Stephania said. Their caretakers listened in on every word.
Their only escape was to flee. They ran away from the home and eventually ended up with Dooley, where they have been ever since.
With their foster parents’ help, they are trying to put their ordeal behind them. But grim reminders still exist.
Dooley described what her daughter went through as “more emotionally traumatic,” saying the episode left a lingering effect on Stephania’s mental condition.
Now 13, she is on medication and has been under a therapist’s care since arriving at Dooley’s home in February.
“She’s pulling up,” said Dooley.
Ruggue, 11, the more introverted of the two, according to Dooley, seldom talks about the previous living conditions. But they left an impact on him that come out in fits of self-inflicted punishment.
“Sometimes he would just ... slap himself,” she said. He would hit himself so hard it sounded like someone else was hitting him. The behavior has since stopped after a therapist recommended medication.
The siblings now are trying to focus on what other kids their age do: go to school and have fun.
Ruggue wants to be a geologist or make video games. Stephania is excelling in her grades at Benjamin Franklin Center. She wants to be a dancer, actor or police officer.
“That’s a great divide,” Dooley said laughing. “But she likes to dance: in the stores, in the streets, anywhere.”