Neto's Tucson by Ernesto Portillo Jr. : Real Peace Corps fulfillment: She adopted a son from Fiji

2008-09-14T00:00:00Z Neto's Tucson by Ernesto Portillo Jr. : Real Peace Corps fulfillment: She adopted a son from FijiNeto's Tucson by Ernesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star
September 14, 2008 12:00 am  • 

There's an adage that says it takes a village to raise a child. Terry Wozniak wouldn't disagree, but she believes that when the village can't raise the child, an individual has to step in.

That's what Wozniak did when she recently completed her work as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji, a South Pacific country made up of more than 100 islands. She adopted Josaia, a 14-year-old boy from the Fiji village where Wozniak spent nearly three years teaching English and computer skills to youngsters.

"I saw a lot of talent and potential in him. He could not realize it there," she said.

Wozniak and Josaia had been in Tucson for about two weeks when we met at their temporary West Side house. They are both, in their own way, adjusting to a new life and cultural setting.

Wozniak, 55, has been asking about her son's schooling. Josaia will take academic placement tests, and Wozniak will enroll him in school.

She has applied for his Social Security number. They've looked for a permanent home and attended to the myriad of other tasks, including shopping.

"We did some serious clothes shopping," Wozniak said.

Saguaros and the waterless Santa Cruz River will replace palm trees and beaches for Josaia. Within days of his arrival, he got a taste of a Tucson desert downpour.

But he feels a bit at home listening to the rap and hip-hop of 50 Cent, Chris Brown and Akon.

"Kids in Fiji know America through music videos," Wozniak said.

Since their arrival, they've immersed themselves in some of Tucson's cultural offerings. They have visited the Reid Park Zoo and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Josaia has played basketball and billiards at the Steve Daru Boys and Girls Club, near West Speedway and North Silverbell Road.

In return, he might teach the kids Fiji's reigning sport, rugby, which Josaia played.

Josaia was quiet during our visit. Homesick, said Wozniak, a former Disney animator.

But home for Josaia was not good, Wozniak said.

Josaia was one of many students whom Wozniak taught in a small, traditional Fijian village of about 600 people. It was one of six villages made up of family clans, she said.

Initially, Wozniak planned to work with an arts and crafts group, but that plan fell apart. She turned to teaching computer skills and English to Fijian-speaking children, many of whom also speak some Hindi and English, like Josaia.

Fiji was a British colony for about 100 years, and during the 19th century it became a home for Indian laborers. Fijians of Indian descent make up more than one-third of Fiji's 900,000-plus population.

Wozniak soon discovered that the children in her village often did not attend school or moved from village to village. For cultural and economic reasons, Fijian families move often or leave their children in the care of extended families, she said.

Josaia was one of those children.

"Jo came in and out but started staying longer," Wozniak said.

That was about halfway into her stay in Fiji. Several months into getting to know Josaia and his life, Wozniak began to think about his future.

Then he stopped coming. Wozniak felt his absence more than that of the other students. He had more to give, but not many people were giving to him.

While Josaia had an extended family, its resources were limited. Wozniak felt his opportunities were limited in Fiji.

Adopting him and bringing him to Tucson were her ways of providing Josaia with more chances.

Josaia said he may want to enter the military or law enforcement. In the meantime, he wants to take hip-hop dance lessons. In Fiji, most young people love to dance hip-hop, he added.

While the transition will not be easy and the challenges will be many, Wozniak is confident that she and Josaia will make a comfortable home in Tucson. She has family members here, and Tucson has a growing, diverse population.

It's also a larger village to help her raise her son.

Neto's Tucson

Ernesto

Portillo jr.

Did you know

Tucson is a popular destination for returned Peace Corps volunteers. Tucson has a chapter of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, a national organization. About 50 former volunteers belong to the local chapter, which meets every other month and conducts community-service projects.

In addition, there is the University of Arizona Peace Corps Fellows/USA program. Nearly 60 returned Peace Corps volunteers are now enrolled in graduate studies at the UA.

For more information about the Tucson chapter of returned volunteers, send e-mail to rpcvtucson@yahoo.com. More information about the UA's Peace Corps program can be found at www.grad.arizona.edu/peacecorp/home.

● Reporter Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. has deep roots in Tucson: His maternal great-great-grandfather lived here beginning in the 1860s. Portillo can be contacted at 807-8414 or eportillo@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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