Santi is an 11-year-old boy with a breathtaking smile. He stands out for his impeccable sense of micro-fashion — he wore salmon-red slacks, a teal long-sleeved button down with shell snaps, and a pair of fake Ray-Ban shades the day we met him — and his gorgeous, dark skin. He’s super cute, and something about him draws people in like a magnet.
Santi likes Legos — he kept two little Lego men in his breast pocket at the zoo — and dreams of being a police officer so he can protect people. He likes board games and blue, and he loves to build things. He’s confident, polite and curious. He is doing well in the 5th grade, but he’s just a tad behind in school. Sound like a normal 11-year-old?
What you’d never guess from looking at Santi is his past.
When Santi was 5, he was removed from his home for severe neglect. Santi lived in a rural jungle region about a 6-hour drive from Cali. He had never worn shoes, never been to school, and never seen a toilet when he was taken into protective custody. Santi has 20 biological siblings, but only knows about five of them. No one came to try to reunite with him.
Today, he’s made incredible progress.
He works really hard in school and likes to learn appropriate social cues by watching others. He loves clothes.
When I asked Santi what his favorite thing about himself is, he pulled his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose just far enough to give me a silly look over the top of the frames. “My skin,” he replied, with a faux-suave emphasis on the words. “I’m so handsome.”
I laughed loudly in response, amused, and he snapped his sunglasses back up and smiled at himself. But when I looked at his psychologist — she traveled to Cali to spend the day with him — she had tears in her eyes.
“When Santi first came into care,” she said to my puzzled response, “he got teased and bullied all the time for his dark skin. I’ve worked with him a lot on his confidence. I just love hearing him say those words.”
And like that, Santi was off again, bored by my questions and eager to look at more animals.
We came to the ostrich enclosure and he made me laugh again with his wide-eyed and excited declaration.
“Dinosaurio!” he yelled without a hint of sarcasm or humor, pointing at the ostriches and stretching up to his tip-toes for a better look. He grabbed our photographer Daniel’s hand and tucked his face into his ribs, partially out of fear and partially excitement.
Daniel laughed. “Those aren’t dinosaurs, Santi. They’re ostriches. They’re a kind of bird.”
“No,” Santi responded politely, if not slightly agitated by Daniel’s stupidity. “They’re dinosaurs.”
Santi says he wants a family who will build things with him, but he also wants a family who is gentle, loving and supportive.
Could you or someone you know be the right family for Santi? For more information about this special boy, please contact Kim Dowd-Uribe at firstname.lastname@example.org.