Lawaun and Leslie Cunningham extend their family
by Lori Tippets
Dec 29, 2013 | 1360 views |  0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Three years ago Roodnarline, five, sat in the Bresma Orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti. She was surrounded by dozens of other orphans including her infant brother, Ednaisson.

The Bresma Orphanage was not the most ideal place for Roodnarline and Ednaisson, or any other child to grow up. Big walls with rolled barbed wire surrounded the orphanage. The children ate meals of porridge.

Little did Roodnarline know that life as she knew it was in the process of being changed.

Far away from Roodnarline and Ednaisson, in the city of Jacksonville, Alabama, a family was sitting around their table talking about the earthquake in Haiti.

Lawaun and Lesley Cunningham and their children had listened to the news reports of the turmoil in the country caused by the destruction of the earthquake.

At the time, the Cunninghams had three of their four children still at home, Lauren, Jocelyn and Elijah. Another daughter, Ashley, was married and in the Marine Corps.

Talk about adopting another child had cropped up now and then in conversation. Lawaun felt like there was another child waiting for them.

After having had three girls, the Cunninghams adopted Elijah when he was just a baby. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), the Cunninghams had gone through the adoption process through a church agency.

While Lawaun was sure that he wanted another child, Lesley, a music teacher at Munford Elementary, wasn’t sure. However, as she thought about it, and prayed about it, she felt like she was inspired that they needed to have another child.

Listening to the news of the orphans in Haiti, Lesley suddenly felt, “like this really had something to do with me. The feeling was really strong and inspired and I felt like Heavenly Father was saying, “this has something to do with you.”

As the family sat down to talk about the adoption Lawaun said that first of all they made sure that, “everybody in the family was on the same page and everybody was really for it.”

Lawaun contacted the church’s adoption agency only to find out that they only did domestic adoptions. The Cunninghams began praying and found out about a woman, Diana Boni, who had adopted five children and worked with an agency called, All Blessings International and was also on several government committees.

The Cunninghams felt strongly they should work with Boni and the long arduous process of adoption began.

“The initial information was that the process was going to be very long, very emotional and very expensive, “said Lesley. They were not led astray. A lot of adoptions from Haiti were taking two and a half years; the Cunningham’s adoption took three.

In those three years, Lauren, 24, graduated and moved to San Francisco, Jocelyn, 20, also graduated and is on a mission for the LDS church in Everett, Washington, leaving only Elijah, 16, at home. Many people asked the Cunninghams why they were doing this when they would soon be, as Lesley stated, “free and clear,” but inspiration and prayer told them they were doing the right thing.

After the Cunninghams had a home study done by an agency in Birmingham, Boni got busy looking for a child that the Cunninghams had requested, a girl between the ages of 4-10, in the two orphanages in Port au Prince.

Two years ago, Boni contacted Lesley and Lawaun that she had a little girl fitting what they wanted, only she came with an infant brother. “We had to really think about that,” said Lesley. Lawaun had already seen pictures of the little girl and had fallen in love with her,” not knowing the girl had a brother.

Lesley was worried about having a one-year old with her working in Munford and at the time Lawaun was working at the Anniston Army Depot.

Boni told Lesley, “You’re not going to get him for a long time,” to which Lesley replied, “Oh, and he’ll be older.” Pausing, Boni waited and then said to Lesley, “You’ll be older too.”

Lesley and Lawaun once again went to a higher authority for confirmation of what they should do. After all, they would be 53 when the children came. Once again they received confirmation after much praying that they should take both children.

The Cunninghams received letters to sign, “letter of intent” that they would take the children. Roodnarline and Ednaisson were assigned to the Cunninghams and more paperwork, translated into English, was sent to the Cunninghams.

One paper sent was Roodnarline’s birth certificate and as Lawaun was reading over it he discovered that Roodnarline was a twin!

Apparently, the young girl had been telling the people at the orphanage that she was a twin but they hadn’t paid much heed. Now it was confirmed, Roodnarline had a twin brother.

In Haitian culture it is believed that separating twins is better than keeping them together. A search was made and after investigations the twin, a boy named Roodnaud was found.

Lawaun remembers the call, “Diana (Boni) called and said, “I’ve got more news for you…” when the twin was discovered.

Boni told the Cunninghams that she didn’t feel it was practical for them to take all three and that if they took the twins they could probably find someone to adopt the baby. “But we had already fallen in love with the baby,” said Lawaun.

It took the Cunningham’s only two days before telling Boni they would take all three.

This year in March the Cunninghams were able to go to Haiti to meet the children in person. The children had already received scrapbooks from the Cunninghams with everyone’s pictures in the family and their names.

The Cunninghams stayed at a guesthouse run by the agency and at one point were whisked away to the big gates of the orphanage. Once inside, the three children were brought forth among the dozens of smiling children that had rushed to see the van carrying prospective parents. The children were allowed to go with the Cunninghams back to the guesthouse.

While in Haiti paperwork was started to legally adopt the children.

One hurdle that had to be jumped was that at that time no one could adopt a child if they had biological children of their own. The Cunninghams took advantage of a Presidential Dispensation, which meant more paperwork that took forever, but the Cunninghams were able to go before a judge in Haiti to adopt the children.

After a week’s visit with the children they had to take the children back to the orphanage. “It was really hard taking them back,” said Lesley. “We had gone to two courts while we were down there and the American Embassy.

“It was hard after we met them,” echoed Lawaun. It was hard before but really hard after we met them. They were crying when we took them back to the orphanage.

“We were thinking it would be just a couple of months before we got them but it took until Thanksgiving. It was killing us.”

Right before Thanksgiving the Cunninghams received the call they had been waiting for, that they could pick up the children.

Elijah went with his parents to meet the children for the first time. “I was nervous to meet the kids. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react myself,” said Elijah. When Elijah and Roodnaud first met Roodnaud had a big smile for Elijah and he knew everything was going to be all right.

Coming home with the children was an experience. After all, it was their first time on an escalator, elevator, tram ride, and of course the airplane.

At the airport the children had chicken nuggets and fries, they weren’t too sure about the fries but fell in love with the ketchup! “Lesley laughs saying that they love ketchup so much that when they take them for fast food they eat their fries with ketchup, then use their fingers to get whatever ketchup is left.

The children have now taken a real liking to chicken and Elijah laughs when he thinks about it, saying he has to eat quickly if he is going to get any.

Communication is a problem and a challenge. The children speak Haitian Creole and Lesley speaks some French from which the children can pick up the meaning here and there.

Mostly, the children act as parrots, repeating back everything that they hear.

The children seem like they are now in heaven on earth. They smile, they are happy, they have momma blanc (white mother), poppy and Elijah. They love to go to Elijah’s basketball games at Jacksonville High School.

They seem to be adapting well to electronics, as Roodnaud and Roodnarline always have earphones listening to music. They also enjoy video games.

There will be challenges for the children. After Christmas the twins will begin second grade at Munford Elementary in a classroom next to their mother. Up to this point, they have had no formal education but the Cunninghams read to them daily and they are learning.

At night the children go to bed with quilts that the Cunninghams took to them their first visit to Haiti. They are quilts that were part of a quilting project that Jocelyn was in charge of, making quilts not only for her new siblings but for other children in the orphanage as well. They also still have their worn edged scrapbooks of their new family.

The children are enthralled with their Christmas tree. When they went to pick it out they wanted the display model with the lights, not a tree without lights!

The new Cunningham children were happy when their tree was adorned with lights when they got home.

Roodnaud, Roodnarline and Ednaisson go to bed each night with the warmth of the lights of the tree in their minds and the warmth of the love of their new family in their hearts.

The gift of a new family filled with love will be theirs forever and ever.
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Lawaun and Leslie Cunningham extend their family by Lori Tippets

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