From Haiti to a new home

March 04, 2010

SOMERSWORTH - A 2 1⁄2-year-old Haitian boy made it from the earthquake-devastated country to his adoptive mother on Maple Street thanks to an unlikely team of strangers that included Hollywood actor Sean Penn, a staffer from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's office, and a Florida construction contractor moonlighting as a humanitarian worker.

"He's been through an awful lot to get here," said the boy's mother, Jenna Tousignant, as she bounced little Cal in her lap at her kitchen table Wednesday - three days after she flew down to Miami, Fla., to pick him up.

How he got there is a story Tousignant said she has a hard time believing herself.

A divorced school nurse with a 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old adopted daughter, Tousignant began the adoption process in 2007 with Cal, whose full name is Guy-Pascal Tousignant. She decided to adopt the boy, who is developmentally delayed, because her mother, Sheila, regularly travels to the country to help malnourished children.

Cal's journey to Somersworth began soon after the January earthquake hit, killing tens of thousands. Cal was living with a foster family in the western part of Haiti, which escaped the brunt of the damage.

When Tousignant found out Cal survived, she said she was desperate to get him out of the country.

She started by sending money to Brett Meares, a construction contractor and pilot in Tampa, Fla., who her mother knew through a friend.

Meares flew to the Haitian city of Jeremie, where Cal was staying, and delivered the money to Cal's foster family. The family bought plane tickets for Cal and a chaperone to fly to the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's office arranged for Cal to board a U.S.-bound plane chartered by Sean Penn, who has personally led a rescue effort in Haiti with his Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization.

Tousignant said Shaheen staffer Madeline Lewis was instrumental in arranging the flight and updating her on the process. When the recent wind storm knocked out power to Tousignant's home Friday, she said Lewis had her come to Shaheen's Dover office to use a computer so she could contact adoption officials.

"She helped us out a lot," Tousignant said of Lewis. "She really made the difference."

Cal and about 40 other adoptees arrived in Miami Saturday night. Tousignant and her mother flew there Sunday. She said in total, she spent about $1,500 in plane tickets for Cal, herself, and her mother.

They met Cal at His House Children's Home in Miami.

When they finally held him, they both cried.

"We couldn't believe it was done," Tousignant said.

Cal is one of about 200 Haitian children whose adoptions were sped up after the earthquake, according to the U.S. State Department.

Cal has seemed to take his improbable journey in stride. He got some much-needed rest when he got back to Somersworth Monday, but otherwise has been playful and eager to get to know his adoptive brother, Bradley, and sister, Michaela. His favorite foods have been mashed potatoes and yogurt, and he likes to play with tiny toy trucks.

He is repeating words like "bye-bye" and "mama."

Tousignant said she is taking him to a doctor soon to diagnose his developmental problems, which may have stemmed from low birth weight and malnourishment. He could start preschool in the fall.

Tousignant said she is forever grateful to the people who brought Cal into her arms.

"We've never seen a Sean Penn movie, but we're going to start renting them now," her mother joked.

They also credited Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, of the Haitian Health Foundation, who worked with government officials to secure Cal's trip after his adoption paperwork was lost in the earthquake.

Tousignant called Lewis "an extraordinary woman," and said she couldn't believe Meares flew to Haiti simply "out of the goodness of his heart."

"The kindness and benevolence of strangers is amazing," Tousignant said.

By:  Jason Claffey
Source: Foster’s Daily Democrat