When Sandu Lama saw Wendy Goldbach for the first time, he knew he had found a mother. He was only four years old, an orphan, and his future was bleak as a young child growing up in a poverty stricken and war torn area of Nepal.
For Wendy, who had no biological children of her own, the little boy was a heavenly gift. “All of a sudden Sandu was on my lap, as if God had placed him there,” she said with a smile. “From then on I knew I would always be connected with Sandu. He would always be in my heart.”
A lot has changed for Wendy and Sandu since that fateful day in 2000. Now this 16-year-old lives with Wendy and her husband, Terry, and the three have formed a loving and tight-knit family. “I’m just so grateful that Sandu is finally here,” said Wendy. “It has been a really long time to wait to get him to America.”
This family’s journey began back in 2000 when Wendy, who teaches occupational therapy at Concordia University in Mequon, traveled with her friend, Magda King, to Tibet. Magda is a mountain climber and on a previous trip had noticed the poverty in many of the local villages. “She was so taken with the beauty of the land and the people, she wanted to give something back,” said Wendy. “So she decided to build an elementary school.”
Magda told Wendy about what she had seen and about her school, and then the two decided to put together a team of medical experts to travel to Yarmasing, a village near the Tibet border, where they would teach villagers about hygiene and first aid techniques, and treat those who were suffering with illnesses. “They have so little, and don’t know too much about how to treat illnesses and injuries,” said Wendy. “Many die of simple infections.”
It was while Wendy was teaching local villagers about hygiene in a village near the Nepal border that little Sandu showed up and immediately was taken by Wendy. “I always remember her in my life,” said the teenager. “I knew we had a bond.”
Wendy was all for adopting Sandu, but the legalities were impossible to overcome. At that time Sandu was living with his aunt, but his grandfather was his guardian. “For me to adopt Sandu, the grandfather would have had to give up his guardianship status and then Sandu would be put into an orphanage,” said Wendy. “Then I would not have had a choice on what child I would be able to adopt.”
But Wendy never gave up on the little boy with the mop of black hair and deep brown eyes. She sent him packages and kept in touch by telephone and Skype, when it was available. And she took frequent trips to see the youngster and continue her mission work.
Eventually, when Sandu was ready for school in 2002, he lived in a hostel with a group of boys in Katmandu. It is a similar situation as a boarding school. “I missed having parents,” he said. “I felt very alone.”
Wendy did the best she could, living in the States, without Sandu. She led a busy life teaching college courses and participating at her place of worship, Highland Community Church in Wausau. Then one day at a friend’s house she met Terry. “I had brought pictures of my latest trip and we met over those,” said Wendy. The couple was smitten with each other and it wasn’t long before they married. Terry was always on board about getting Sandu to America. “I knew that was a goal of Wendy’s,” he said. “And once I met Sandu, I wanted him here too.”
For many years the couple traveled to Nepal. “We’ve been there 22 times in the last 12 years,” said Terry. While Wendy’s goal was always to see Sandu, she also brought students and the trips were mission oriented, whether medically or spiritually. But after each stay it became harder and harder to leave her little boy. “I always considered him my son,” said Wendy. “He seemed as if he was a part of me and leaving him was so hard.”
Wendy explored every avenue she could think of to adopt Sandu, but the legalities and regulations were always prohibitive. Then a friend told her about a program that allowed international high school students to come to America to study. Wendy encouraged Sandu to keep his grades high at his hostel school because he would be required to pass a test to enter the student study program.
Sandu worked hard and did pass the test and acquired a student Visa. Now he was free to come to America under the care of Wendy and Terry. He arrived at his new home on June 3, and he is finding America quite the place. Even the simplest of conveniences have him astonished. “I can’t believe you have doors that open by themselves,” he said. “And car washes are really amazing.”
He’s also enchanted with the food, and has come to love Wisconsin brats and cheese. “I love the cheese here,” he said with a smile. “Very, very good.” And Wendy and Terry are making sure that Sandu will come to love another Wisconsin icon. “He’s going to be a Packer fan too,” said Wendy with a wink.
Wendy continues to teach at Concordia University and Terry is retired, so the family does a lot of traveling between their home on Crescent Lake and Milwaukee. In fact, this summer Sandu took a couple of summer school classes in the school he will be attending this fall near Milwaukee. “I really like my school,” he said. “I’m glad I took the summer classes, though, so now I know what to expect when I start in a few weeks.”
Sandu is also getting acquainted with his new family, including Terry’s two daughters and their families, which include several grandchildren. And Wendy’s family is so happy for her and that Sandu is finally in a safe and loving home. And needless to say, Sandu is in total agreement with that. “I am so glad to be here with my Mom and Dad,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been hoping for since I can remember.”