I met Joy when I was 18 and she was days old. It was literally love at first sight when they placed her in my arms. I was volunteering at a baby's orphanage in Uganda at the time and was not expecting to feel the way I did with Joy. There were many babies at the home but there was something different about my connection with Joy. For the first three months of her life, I mothered her. I shared many precious moments with her and cherished every new thing that she did. When it came time to leave, I was heartbroken. In the months that followed, I realized I was walking around with an empty place in my heart and in my arms.... Fast forward seven years, not a day has gone by where I have not missed Joy.
A roller coaster ride would be putting it lightly to describe the last seven years. As Joy got a bit older, we discovered that she had some special needs. She was severely delayed in her development. A year and a half after my first trip, my new husband and I went back to visit Joy and to discuss adoption. That visit was incredible, and despite the time apart, Joy instantly remembered me. We were inseparable. Unfortunately for us, we also discovered that Joy was going to be settled with her biological grandfather. Although we desperately begged for contact with Joy's grandfather, we were refused any communication for privacy purposes.
We had no idea where Joy was. No names to search for, no address, no phone number, nothing... For a year and a half we searched online almost every day for a way to be reconnected with Joy. All we had was a photo of Joy with her grandfather, and a general idea of the part of the country they originated from. We wrote to NGO's, people on linked-in and Facebook with the same last name as Joy (which we later discovered to be futile, as surnames are given in Uganda, not inherited), etc.
One day, one of the many emails we sent out struck gold. We found someone who was from the same district we thought Joy to be from, who happened to live in the same city as we do!! We met with him and he shared our story and the photo of Joy & her grandfather with his contacts back home in Uganda. On Joy's 5th birthday, we received a response. Someone had recognized the photo of Joy's grandfather and sent us his phone number!!! It was a true miracle.
After speaking with Joy's grandfather we found out a few things. He wanted to be in contact with us the whole time, Joy was not in school, and Joy had been taken by other family members to the neighbouring country of South Sudan (a country that was in civil war). We were so thankful to have regained a line of contact, but distraught to learn that Joy was living in such a dangerous place.
For about a year and a half after regaining contact, we tried multiple times to get Joy to come back to Uganda (where we would help to pay for her to be in school). We kept coming up against issues with rifts in the family, deceit, and overall miscommunication.
Around this time I was gifted my "hope" The Giving Keys necklace by my sister. She had attended the She Is Free conference in New York. My sister knew the trouble that we were going through not only with Joy, but also with some financial issues at the time. Hope was definitely a needed commodity in my life at that time!
As we could see our efforts to get Joy into school were not going anywhere, we realized that it would take us meeting with the family in person to make this happen. We took a big gamble in purchasing plane tickets for my husband, toddler and I (with my baby bump) to Uganda. We had two weeks to make things happen!
Those two weeks were the craziest of my life! Our trip involved us travelling 9 hours up North to meet Joy's family members in Uganda, to advocate for Joy to come back to Uganda for school. It was incredibly difficult. We wasted days dealing with lies, things getting lost in translation, and at many times we thought we wouldn't be able to see her at all.
Then came one of the best moments of my life. Joy stepping out of the car. Her eyes! Her beauty! She was so big! My heart burst. We had lost her and thought we may never see her again, and here she was! Through the blessing of her family, we were able to bring her to school in Uganda. We took her to doctors appointments and got her settled in. Only 6 precious days of our 14 day trip were actually spent with Joy in the end. But it was so worth it.
At the end of our time with Joy, I decided to give her my "hope" necklace. The hope I had for finding Joy had been actualized. Here she was, right before me.... and I knew there was so much hope in Joy's future as well. Hope for her to be settled in to a whole new world, to do well in school, to develop, to be safe, to be loved. At this crossroads in time, with Joy starting a new journey, I knew it was time to pass on my necklace. And I couldn't think of a person more worthy.