Jimmy Amisial was walking through Gonaives, Haiti, on his way to a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2018 when he spotted a large crowd and approached it.
“When I got to the place where the people were making noise I saw a baby,” said Amisial, 22 at the time and visiting his homeland on a break from school in Texas. “It was in a pile of trash crying, and there wasn’t a single soul who wanted to do anything about it.”
While the locals were afraid to touch the infant because they feared the child was either cursed or evil, Amisial said, he nervously picked him up.
“He had no clothes on. He had fire ants crawling all over him because he’s been there for a couple of hours. When I picked him up he immediately stopped crying.”
A bond was made and now, more than four years later, Amisial is trying to make fatherhood official by formally adopting the boy he has not let go of since that night.
“When I woke up that day I was unaware my life was going to change forever,” Amisial told CNN.
Temporary custody is granted
The night he found the boy Amisial took him to the home of his mother, Elicie Jean, who was shocked that her son had gone off to a party and returned with a 3-month-old infant.
“While cleaning him we noticed he had some fire ant bites and an allergic reaction so we used some lotion to help stop the pain,” Amisial said.
Amisial called police to report what he had found and kept the baby overnight while police investigated the case, as suggested by the authorities, he said.
The next day a judge showed up to his mother’s house to ask him if he wanted temporary custody of the child since no one had come forward to claim him, Amisial said.
“After he asked me that question, I had a lot of sleepless nights. I tossed and turned but my mother reminded me things happen for a reason,” Amisial told CNN. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of something great and to me, that was the moment.”
Tens of thousands raised for adoption
After the holiday break, Amisial returned to Texas as required by his student visa program but left the child in the care of his mother while he continued to financially support them.
A year later, in 2019, Amisial decided to start the process to formally adopt the child he had named Emilio Angel Jeremiah but he quickly ran into obstacles as the process turned out to be costly.
“It wasn’t that easy,” Amisial said. “In Haiti it’s hard to do government stuff. When I started the process it seemed fine but then they asked me for a lot of money but I didn’t have the funds.”
Esther Chery, his lawyer in Haiti, told CNN she has been working with Amisial on the adoption process since 2019.
“What I know for sure (is) adoption is very expensive,” Chery said.
All God’s Children International, an adoption agency, estimates it costs over $40,000 to adopt a child from Haiti without including airfare, lodging and other fees associated with travel, according to its website.
So, in 2020 Amisial decided to take a break from school, where he studied communications, to focus on working so he could save up money to adopt Emilio and support his family in Haiti. He works as a part-time landscaper and delivery assistant.
On July 27 he set up an online fundraiser to help raise money for Emilio’s adoption fees.
Amisial set a goal of $60,000, and as of Friday morning he had raised over $79,000.
“Love and light in your parenting journey,” one $20 donor said, adding a heart emoji.
Even though Amisial has surpassed his goal, he told CNN, he plans to use the extra money to fund Emilio’s education and support local orphanages in Haiti. He also has dreams of starting his own nonprofit to help orphans and needy families in his home country.
‘He’s such a joyful kid’
Amisial said he uses FaceTime to communicate with Emilio several times a week and tries to visit as often as possible but the unsafe conditions in Haiti in the last year have made it difficult.
When describing Emilio, Amisial said the now 4-year-old is fun to be around and has a great personality.
“He loves watching ‘Tom and Jerry’ and he loves playing the guitar and singing. He’s such a joyful kid and he loves sports. He plays soccer and basketball.
“My mom and I had an automatic connection with him. He calls me Dad. Even though I’m his temporary guardian, I still consider myself his dad.”
Amisial has a history of helping orphans in his country. He told CNN he grew up volunteering at the local orphanages in Haiti.
During this time he learned English and volunteered on missions, he said. He told CNN he made several connections through his volunteer work and that helped him get accepted to Texas State University.
During his teenage years Amisial created bracelets from recycled Doritos bags and sold them to raise money for his education and help the children in the orphanages celebrate their birthdays.
Amisial is now 27 years old and determined to finish up Emilio’s adoption process. He then plans to go back to school and finish his studies.
“I want him to be happy. I want to teach him how to love and I want him to know that even though he was left alone, he’s not alone.”
Etant Dupain contributed to this report.