Mark Hayward's City Matters: Hopes for a mother and child reunion
Emma Sadia of Manchester holds a photograph of her son, whom she had to abandon when she fled Africa seven years ago. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)
These weeks of mid-December brim with hope.
For believers, the hope is for fruition of promises of peace and goodwill, made some 2,000 years ago with a savior's birth.
For my teenage children, hope is for the latest in electronic gadgetry and shoot-'em-up software.
For retailers, it's that cash registers will ring the Bell Carol of holiday sales.
For Emma Sadia, her hope is that she will soon hold the son she had to abandon seven years ago, when political problems drove her and her two other children from her African homeland. She was faced then with a decision that would tear into the heart of any parent - whether to seek the safety of America for one's self and younger children, but leave loved ones behind, in this case a firstborn child.
"It was very hard," she said about leaving her boy, who was then 13, with relatives in the Ivory Coast. "I told him I love him, and I hope one day we will be together. I told him to believe in God, and one day he will come (to the United States)."
That appears imminent. This week, Sadia received word through the office of Sen. Kelly Ayotte that a visa and passport have been approved for her son, who is now 20. He should get them in his hands within the next two weeks, making a mother-and-child reunion possible this Christmas.
For her son, Junior Koussi, this is more than about being home for the holidays. A year ago, he lost sight in one eye, and his remaining eyesight is deteriorating, Sadia said. Medicine isn't always available in the Ivory Coast, a former French colony, and doctors there say they can do no more to help Koussi, Sadia said. She has spoken to doctors here about him, but they need to evaluate him in person, she said. "I know they can do something," she said.
Sadia's story is not uncommon for refugees who come to the United States, said Mukhtar Idhow, executive director of the Manchester-based Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success. Resettlement families are broken up for all sorts of reasons: bureaucrats will be suspicious when a child doesn't look like the parents, a child may not be living in the family home at the time a visa is granted, or official records may be wrong.
In Sadia's case, Junior is not her husband's son. Rodrigue Sadia moved here in 2002 after obtaining political asylum. Once established, he could only have Sadia and their two children join him three years later.
"Of course it's painful, especially if your kids are under 18 and cannot take care of themselves," Idhow said. But the trade-off is giving up the opportunity that America offers, he said. Many move with the hopes of an eventual reunion, but the process can take years.
Sadia has found a sponsor for her son. She has provided a DNA sample and tax records to show that Koussi is hers and that she can support him. Koussi has gone through interviews.
Now, he just has to get the papers in hand.
Sadia spoke in a neat but small apartment at Elmwood Gardens, a housing project in south Manchester. She works as a licensed nursing assistant at a local nursing home; Rodrigue is an instructor at Easter Seals.
The children she fled with, Elysee and Emmanuella, are now 13 and 12 and attend Southside Middle School. When Junior arrives, he will meet twin half-brothers, who are now 5. The family has made friends through the church it attends - the Granite State Church of Christ in Londonderry, Rodrigue said.
Koussi will move from a country that, according to the CIA World Factbook, is one of the most prosperous in western Africa, thanks to foreign investment and cocoa production. But it has experienced a history of rigged elections, coups and civil wars since 1999.
The most recently elected president, Alassane Dramane Quattara, only assumed power last year with the help of United Nations and French troops.
Sadia said she telephoned her son nearly every day since she left him, racking up daily charges of $5 to $10. She also sent $200 a week to cover the costs of his medicine, although it was frequently unavailable. And she filed paperwork to get him here, all the time biding advice to be patient. How can a mother do that?
"We are here to protect our kids; it's a responsibility to be here for our kids," she said.
A woman of faith, she prayed earlier this year at the Precious Blood Monastery. Someone there urged her to visit Ayotte's Manchester office. She did so, and she credits the staff with speeding up the process.
"New Hampshire residents frequently seek assistance from Senator Ayotte," said Jeff Grappone, spokesman for Ayotte. "Her office appreciated the opportunity to help make a difference for this family."
That difference may mean a reunited family at the Sadia dinner table this Christmas season.
"I just want to be able to give him something, and he will know I love him," Sadia said, trying to control her tears. "I will try to give him the life I could not give him."
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Mark Hayward's City Matters appears in Thursday editions of the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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