Train Up a Child

The Bencher—November/December 2017

H. Garrett Baker, Esquire

We are privileged to work in one of the greatest entities in the world, the American legal system. In its eyes, as enshrined in the facade of our Supreme Court, all are entitled to “Equal Justice Under Law.” In many countries of the world, this promise has yet to be offered to its citizens, let alone fulfilled. Our great privilege comes with responsibility to care for those for whom the promise of a brighter day and hope for tomorrow is a distant wish.

My own “worldwide connection” to which this issue of The Bencher is dedicated, is not based on my legal experiences with a multi-national firm or representation of clients of differing ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. Rather, it is based on my experience as a child sponsor over the past eight years.

I chose this vehicle of service based on the recollection of how, as a young man, various people offered a word of support, encouragement, or direction to help guide me—the first in my family to complete college, let alone embark on a profession—to find the path to my own future. If this support was important to me, how much more meaningful it must be to someone living in poverty and hoping for a better life but unsure how to find it. Indeed, I believe that many people miss their potential not because they could not achieve it, but because they never knew that they could.

I enjoyed the knowledge that sponsorship was making a difference in the lives of these young people and their families and enjoyed reading their correspondence. One young man living in the Dominican Republic wrote me saying that he wished he could meet me someday, so he could show me his house and country. His plea tugged at me; because the Dominican Republic was not that far away and might make a nice getaway, I decided to take him up on the request.

The day came, and as we pulled up to Randy’s house, I saw the boy whom I had only known in photographs and felt an instant connection. Nothing could rival the joyous smile on Randy’s face or the warm hugs that he and his family shared with me. They thought of me as a part of their family, overwhelmed with what a difference my small part had made in Randy’s life and hope for the future. Years later, it was very emotional to see him in his cap and gown, graduating and starting on a journey that for him once seemed too distant to be real: completing school and obtaining employment.

That first journey has now brought me to eleven additional countries, including Albania, Armenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, the Philippines, and Romania, where I have been able to pay forward the hope and positive reinforcement I received, hoping that it would reap the same fruit as it did when shared with me. I would like to share just a few of the children’s stories to demonstrate how much effect just a word of encouragement can have.

Another young man I sponsored was Raul. Raul was a prolific letter writer and would often write me multiple times per week. While I appreciated him deeply, he lived in Bolivia, which was not as convenient as the Dominican Republic. One day, I received a letter in which he stated simply that his little sister “was now with God.” He asked nothing for himself but simply that I remember his family. At that moment, I committed to meeting him as soon as possible.

As I arrived in La Paz, I remarked to myself how far the journey was from the airport to my hotel. Raul and his family traveled all night by bus from an outlying community just to meet me. He said nothing about it except that he was a little tired. He kept asking if I was okay, as if it were his job to care for me rather than mine to care for him. I appreciated his selfless approach to others: His daily routine was to wake at 4:00 a.m. to work a few hours in a butcher shop before school, to help the family make ends meet, and then to care for his younger siblings after school while his parents worked. We decided to conclude our day by going to the movies. We chose Ironman 3 in 3D. Raul loved it! I asked him afterward if he had ever seen a 3D movie before. He replied that he had never seen a movie before. I realized then how many simple things we take for granted are not as accessible to others.

I also journeyed to visit Fabio in Brazil. He had worked very hard in his schooling and, as a result, qualified for an advanced program and was now about to start college. Although he acknowledged the hardships and obstacles he had encountered, he told me that it was more important to celebrate the victories. We shared a very special relationship because Fabio’s father had been absent from his life. Fabio now considers me to be the father he never knew and recently became a father himself. He excitedly sends me photos of himself cradling his young son and the pride in his eyes is beaming.  He wrote me to ask that I stand in his father’s place to witness him get his diploma. Of course, I was proud to do that and affirm the culmination of his efforts. That day was more than a graduation, it was a fulfillment—a confirmation that all he had gone through was worth it.

I could tell of many more, but will conclude with Arun, as his story is most unique. Arun wrote to me about his family, including his mother and younger brother. They had been homeless much of their lives; their father had abandoned the family when the younger brother was just a few weeks old. Despite her own health issues and the struggle to raise two small children alone, Arun’s mom worked at odd jobs to provide for her sons and keep them in school. But now they were doing better, and Arun was starting college.

Then, suddenly, Arun dropped from the program. I always wondered what became of him and his family. I ended up befriending another boy with the same name, thinking he was my former sponsored student, but he was not. Fortunately, the second Arun and I formed a friendship and during a visit with him in India, someone came forward who knew the Arun I had sponsored.

Three years after Arun left the program, we found the family and learned that due to heavy financial pressures, Arun had had to drop out of college. They were living on a slab in the basement of a church and Arun could not re-enroll in classes because of unpaid fees. We were able to get Arun re-enrolled in college, to help him obtain a higher paying job, and to find a small place to call home. He was so grateful to be given a second chance, fearing that the small glimmer of hope he once had had passed him by and that he was destined to this fate. His greatest wish now is to earn a good salary so that he can help others who were like him, lacking in hope and opportunity.

Not all of us will have the opportunity to travel to distant lands to personally help those in need. But each of us can, and must, make a difference. Indeed, it may make just as much of a difference in our own lives as it does in theirs. In the end, the greatest legacy that any of us can leave is not well-designed settlements or legal victories, but what we invest in the lives of others. I encourage you to let each day be an opportunity to do exactly that and form your own “worldwide connections.”

H. Garrett Baker, Esquire, is a director in the workers’ compensation department of Elzufon Austin and Mondell in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a founder and president of the Randy J. Holland Delaware Workers’ Compensation AIC.

© 2017 H. GARRETT BAKER, ESQ. This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.