EAST COUNTY — Inside an orphanage in Kamala, Uganda, two children with different pasts, but forced into the same hopeless future, stared into the eyes of their means to get out — their future adoptive parents.
On a mission trip with 15 others in June, Matt Leake, who lives in GreyHawk Landing with his wife, Kaitlyn, and biological son, Mason, 20 months, played with a 6-month old, 15-pound boy with a runny nose in an intensive care unit. His name was Isaiah.
At 2 weeks old, during a heavy rainstorm, Isaiah’s mother had brought him to a charcoal stall to shop. That is where she left him.
At the same orphanage, Tony and Georgia Gamelin spent time with Brielle, a 2-year-old whose mother, also an orphan, had turned to prostitution as a way out. After having four children with four different men, she was deemed unfit to care for Brielle.
Earlier this month, the Leakes and the Gamelins both brought home their new children. Isaiah and Brielle are the 25th and 26th children to be adopted from Uganda through Bayside Community Church’s Bridge a Life ministry, since the program started in 2010.
The circumstances behind the adoptions are different, but as the families returned to separate greeting parties at the Tampa International Airport, they did it with the same ideas — a belief in Christian principles and in following God’s plan for their lives.
Kaitlyn Leake, a third-grade teacher at Willis Elementary School, always desired to adopt a child internationally.
Kaitlyn Leake and her husband had served as foster parents before. The couple started the adoption process last March, contacting Sharon Bradshaw, who facilitates Ugandan adoptions through the Florida Home Studies and Adoption agency. She put them on a waiting list.
Matte Leake joined Bayside’s mission trip to Uganda last June simply to help; he thought he would come home with nothing more than a few stories, because he and his wife were planning to adopt in the summer of 2013.
But when Georgia Gamelin asked the others on the trip if they wanted to join her to check on a boy in the intensive care, Matt Leake followed and soon found himself looking into a boy’s watery eyes — those of Isaiah, an infant with a poor immune system who couldn’t swallow food.
“Did you sense a connection with that boy?” Georgia Gamelin had asked Matt Leake. “You can’t tell me that’s not your son.”
Back home in the East County that night, Kaitlyn Leake received an email from Bradshaw that indicated she and her husband had been moved off the adoption waiting list and could move forward. An adoption application was attached.
“What kind of sign is that?” Matt Leaked asked.
Under the Leakes’ direction, Bradshaw dug into Isaiah’s past to determine if he was internationally adoptable.
He was born Nov. 11, 2011, to an unknown biological father.
In August, Bradshaw made the match, approving Isaiah’s adoption.
On Feb. 8, the family traveled to Uganda to adopt the now 16-month-old Isaiah. This time, however, Isaiah lacked the smile of his original encounter with Matt Leake; he clung to caretakers.
“He was afraid of us,” Matt Leake said. “At that point, you’re not sure about anything.”
The Leakes, who brought Mason on the trip, stayed with Isaiah at a bed-and-breakfast in Uganda for four weeks, taking time to explore the country, as well.
Soon, Mason began to rub Isaiah’s head when he cried and shared food when he pursed his lips. Isaiah gained two pounds in two weeks.
They visited the charcoal hut where Isaiah was left for dead. There, they shared stories with the female worker with whom Isaiah’s mother had left her child.
“She didn’t understand how a mother could do that,” Matt Leake said. “She said, on that day, if the mother would have abandoned Isaiah outside the hut, he would have drowned to death from the heavy rain.”
On the 26-hour, three-plane flight March 15 to Tampa, Isaiah and Mason didn’t cry.
The brothers share a room now.
Isaiah claps his hands, rubs his now-full belly and says, “Yum.” He symbols “more” by resting two fingers on the palm of his opposite hand.
“With certain things, his past shows,” Matt Leake says. “He’s a little bit smaller and a bit behind developmentally. But we have no fear of what he can accomplish.”
On that June missionary trip to Uganda — his sixth — Tony Gamelin felt hopeless.
He and his wife, Georgia, had already adopted before — Brianne, from Uganda, when she was 2, and Bryce, from Sri Lanka, in 2004, when he was an infant. They also have two older biological children, Brittany and Bryan.
They were only there to bring supplies to five different orphanages.
But then the couple met Brielle, a child born at the orphanage.
“It’s still hard,” Tony Gamelin says. “You can’t help them all.”
Bubblier than the 5-year-old Brianne, Brielle stomps around the family’s living room back home in Sarasota and tips over an unlit candle. She shrugs her shoulders with a mischievous grin.
“For the child, it’s all about just gaining the realization that you will be there in the morning and you won’t go away — that you will genuinely love them forever,” Tony Gamelin says.
Brielle, who arrived at her new home March 3, fits in perfectly as the multi-colored family poses for a group photo, her red bow and matching outfit blending with her mom’s.
“There really isn’t that huge culture shock that many are fearful of,” Tony Gamelin says. “It’s crazy how you love them just the same, within days.”
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
Bridge a Life is looking for families interested in adopting three special-needs children from Uganda.
• A 7-year-old autistic girl
• A 22-month-old boy who suffers from sickle cell anemia
• A 7-month-old boy who was born prematurely
If interested, please call Sharon Bradshaw, at (941) 342-8189 or (941) 993-0853 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tony and Georgia Gamelin are working to turn Bridge a Life, an adoption ministry they helped start with Matt and Kaitlyn Leake and Danny and Ann Marie Jones, into a 501(c)(3), as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. In doing so, it could sponsor orphaned Ugandans. A sponsorship would pay for a school uniform, public school and, at least, one meal a day.