Virginia, July 2010
Vicki Dalia is the mother of eighteen children, eight of whom are adopted. She also runs a family business and a non-profit orphanage in Guatemala. She sees the hand of the Lord guiding her work helping children. In this interview, Vicki tells of the trials and rewards of establishing the orphanage and offers a helpful perspective on parenting and living a gospel-centered life.
How did you discover the Church?
My husband and I had been married for just a short while. He was my second husband, and I had a nine-year-old son from my first marriage. And then we very quickly had one child and then a second child together, just fourteen months apart. I decided I needed a mother’s helper to help with two little ones. And I knew our marriage was in trouble. We were fighting a lot. We happened to move to a neighborhood that was a block from a stake center where the missionaries often tracted. And the mother’s helper I hired was a member of the Church. We were impressed with her family. My son, who was then eleven, and I started taking the discussions. And we were baptized six months later, and then my husband was baptized a year later. That was thirty-one years ago.
How was the transition to the Church?
Well, my husband had grown up Catholic, I had grown up in the Baptist Church. Neither of us had gone to church for quite some time. We were hippies, and we’d been living a hippie lifestyle, which didn’t really form the basis of a good marriage. And all of a sudden we had three children, but our marriage wasn’t strong. Our new membership in the Church satisfied both our need for a religious foundation as well as the family element we needed to strengthen our marriage.
We had five children in six years. We both had a lot of baggage we brought with us from our families of origin. Although we went to church and we were mostly active, it took us seven years from when we were baptized to when we were sealed in the temple. So it was a work in progress. But we have been temple recommend holders now for a long time. Our fifth child is on a mission.
How did you come to adopt eight children?
My husband and I had eight by birth, and I had my son from my first marriage whom my husband adopted. So that was nine children for us. I was forty-one years old, and the doctors told me that I wouldn’t have any more birth children. But we felt like we wanted to raise more children. We had both grown up in unsafe, dysfunctional homes, and we really felt like we wanted to give children an opportunity to have a safe home. We thought at first we would go through the state foster care system, but that didn’t work out because they said we had too many children of our own to adopt through the state. So then we did private adoptions. We adopted black and bi-racial children, and we have a Hispanic Down syndrome child. The oldest of our adopted children is seventeen; the youngest one is four.
We actually ended up having one more birth child after that. She’s fifteen. We just like raising children. As the years went by, we finally started having a little bit of money, and that made things easier. We both have worked at home our whole married life so the children have both parents here. Now it’s even better because the business we started that enabled us to work at home is now being run by our oldest daughters, who have their master’s degrees.
Were the adoptions from within the States? Were they from other countries?
They were in the States. The for-profit business we started from home is AdoptionAdvertising. I have a degree in social work, and I had completed a year of law school before I quit when I married my husband. So I networked and worked with attorneys to find our adopted children and then people started asking me to find children for them. Eventually, we turned those searches into a business. That business has worked really well for us as far as enabling us to work at home, allowing our daughters to go into business with us, and making enough money for us not only to support this large family but a lot of the work we have been doing in Guatemala.
How do you balance family, business, and non-profit work?
It’s a daily challenge; it is not something that you learn and then you are through with it. You learn because you made a mistake the day before and you say “Okay, I need to focus on my family a bit more tomorrow.”
We now have five family members who are employees of our business, so it is a constant, balancing act between being the mother they need and the boss who gets the best out of them. We want to make sure we have a good, ethical, efficient business so our clients will be well pleased, but we also enjoy the family aspects of the business.
We still have nine children at home, so they require a lot of attention. For instance, today we spent the first hour and a half getting the kids up, getting them fed, getting them dressed, getting them to the bus. And then my husband and I did our scripture reading, which we do every day to strengthen our relationship. And then we spent about an hour talking about some issues in the business that are challenging right now. We spent another hour and a half dealing with various problems that some of our adult children are having right now, trying to help them out. After that it was time on our program in Guatemala.
So it’s a constant balancing act each day, pulling open our day planners and looking at what needs our help the most. And for sure if our kids are having a crisis or need some help, we’re there to help them. But we also are very committed to what we do in Guatemala. If it’s something the children can manage on their own, we’ll tell them, “You know, we have a job here we’re doing, too. It looks like you can handle this issue on your own.”
How does the gospel help you in your family life in keeping priorities balanced?
I can’t imagine my family life without the gospel. I start out the day with scripture reading and prayer. I take the challenges that I know are going to come up during the day and I take them to the Lord right then. I work hard to live according to gospel principles so that I can receive personal revelation. We feel that Family Home Evening and the principles we teach our children are so important. Do we ever quit needing the gospel?
What is an example of a situation where you needed to seek personal revelation?
The thing that comes to mind right now is that I have two children in their early twenties. I learned, on the same day, of issues that both of them have—challenges that really knocked me for a loop. They’re adults, and I can’t control their lives, so I struggled with how I could best help them.
I became quite depressed. As I prayed about it, the answer came: “Take ten minutes a day to pray about these two children only. And each day you’ll get inspiration on how to help them.” So that’s what I’ve done. And then I’ve followed the direction I’ve gotten during that prayer time, simple things like, “Call this child,” or “Help in this way.” It’s working really well. I am impressed that the Lord can take something that weighed so heavy on my heart, and in just ten minutes a day, I can help them.
How did you get involved in the work in Guatemala?
Our business, AdoptionAdvertising, started doing well enough where, for the first time in our married life, we had a little bit of extra money. We’re not very materialistic people. Three of our daughters were interested in humanitarian aid missions in college, so we paid for the girls to go to Haiti and work with an orphanage down there. They discovered there was not nearly enough room in the orphanage for all the children, so we donated five thousand dollars for the orphanage to have a much bigger house for a year.
We wanted to become more involved, financially and emotionally, but we wanted to have some control over how our money was spent and the organization was run. I started looking online at opportunities in Guatemala. I have two children who went on Spanish-speaking missions, and the third one, Sarah, was getting her master’s degree at Columbia University and spoke fluent Spanish and was looking for a job. At that time, six years ago, we were reading the scriptures in the book of Luke when Christ is talking to Peter, James, and John about making them fishers of men. And for some weird reason my husband and I both at the same time had this inspiration that we were supposed to open an orphanage in Guatemala.
We hired Sarah when she graduated, to work for our for-profit business as well as become the director of the orphanage work in Guatemala. We located housing and did the legal work, and that was how it started.
It became apparent pretty quickly that our new orphanage needed more supervision than we were giving it from our home in Virginia. Our daughters who had been major players in the establishment of the orphanage were starting to get married and have children of their own, and it became more and more difficult for them to go down to Guatemala. So we felt like we were supposed to move down there. And we did. We moved down there with those children we still had at home. We lived there for three years and had some pretty awesome experiences, from good to horrible. We got run out of one place by banditos. It was just a whole different world. But we fell in love with Guatemala.
We ended up moving back to Virginia a year and a half ago because six of our adopted children have proven to have special needs. We didn’t have the education in Guatemala that would enable them to fulfill the measure of their creation. And now they’ve been thriving. My husband and I go down to Guatemala every couple of months for a few weeks at a time, with the help of our married children who come in and watch the children who are still at home.
Our facility now holds sixty-four children in the orphanage building, but it needs to be bigger than that. We’re in the middle of 1.5 million Mayans, and we do launch feeding programs; we do formula feeding programs; we do nutritional feeding programs; we do tutorial programs where we hire teachers and they tutor the kids three hours a day; we do student scholarship programs. We’re building a clinic right now; we host medical teams, and with the clinic we’ll have our own birthing center so the local women won’t have to give birth anymore on the dirt floors of their shacks. And now we also have seventeen grandchildren under the age of six, so we’ve got to add that part into it, too. We don’t want to miss our grandchildren growing up.
What have been some of the most fulfilling things about your work in Guatemala?
We take in street children at the orphanage. Seeing their lives turn around–taking in teenage boys who have lived on the street and a year later are passing the sacrament, taking in a family of four children who had been beaten and abused their whole lives and watching the oldest child, a boy, embrace the gospel–those things really mean a lot to me. I mean, I can still cry watching these boys pass the sacrament. Taking in little girls who have been raped, picking them up from the hospital, working with them, knowing that I’m helping children who’ve gone through the same thing that I went through as a child but now they have a place to live where they don’t have to worry about that anymore–those things.
A little boy, Samuel, was brought to our orphanage by his parents. He was almost dead. They didn’t have the money to take him by bus into the city to the hospital. Our orphanage director called me and said, “If we don’t help them, this child is going to die within the hour.” And I said, “Give them the money to buy a bus ticket to the hospital.” They took him in. He ended up having spinal meningitis. With the help of the wonderful email support group we have for the orphanage, we were able to raise $2,100 and get him the medical care and the medicine that he needed.
Three weeks later he came home. And when I was down there in January I got to meet him and his mom. Watching his mom cry as she thanked me for saving his life, and watching Samuel smile, was really touching. We had a medical team there last week, and the physical therapist worked with Samuel for four days. He hadn’t been able to walk since his illness. But she got him so he could stand, and he took two steps. Those things just mean a whole lot to me.
Since going to Guatemala, how has your work there strengthened your testimony of the gospel? Have you continued to see the Lord’s hand in what you’ve been doing?
Yes. That’s why I love being down there: I feel the Holy Spirit with me so strong when I am there. Yes, I see His hand. It was Heavenly Father who whispered to me, “I want you to start some feeding programs for the community children because some of them are starving to death.” And so we started the feeding program. We subsequently found out that our gardener’s sister-in-law’s baby died because she had no breast milk and she couldn’t afford formula. We knew that Heavenly Father was talking to us then, prompting us to start the feeding program so more babies like that don’t have to die. “Help this child,” He said. There is no question in my mind that we are doing what the Lord wants us to do.
My kids don’t ever question it either. I mean, I’ve been surprised. I have a couple of kids who like their material things and beg for money for this and that. But they never say, “Well, you don’t have to be doing your work in Guatemala. You could be giving that money to me.” All my children are involved with this. It’s just a family project.
How do you respond to different models of mothering you see in the church? Where do you fit in?
I’m very different in my mothering from the other families in my area. Nobody else has eighteen children. My daughter Erin, who’s almost thirty, had a friend ask her, “How did you get the parental attention you needed when you were growing up with that many children?” And Erin said, “Well, I probably didn’t get as much parental attention as you did, but I got a ton of attention from my brothers and sisters. And we’re really close even today.” And that’s kind of the way it goes. I delegate a lot. My older children help with my younger children. All the older children have chores. Usually we start about age four—well, we start younger than that trying to get them to pick up after themselves—but we start trying to give out assignments like “Clear the table” or something like that when they’re about four or five. They’re not overloaded; I’m talking about half an hour a day during school days. And then we try to do family cleanup for two hours on Saturday if my mental health can stand it that long. It’s very difficult to get nine children to do family cleanup for two hours on Saturday!
I know all of the kids’ needs as well as someone who parents fewer children, but I may not be the one who helps them with each of those needs. For example, I have two ten-year-olds that have a lot of homework right now in third grade. And I have a fifteen-year-old who loves to help with homework, so she gets paid to help her sisters do their homework. In another family, the parents might feel they need to be the ones to help with the homework. We just do things a little bit differently.
I watch other mothers and learn from what they do. I have attended a million parenting classes. With adoptions you just attend a lot of parenting classes. But I don’t feel like you ever finish learning as a parent. It’s like a continuing process. I watch people at church, or any place else that I am, and think, “That looks cool. Maybe I can incorporate that into my parenting skills.” Or, “They did that really well. Maybe I can tell my daughters about that so they can do it with their children.”
What do you do for you, to take care of your needs outside of work?
One thing I do is I pay attention to exercise. No matter what else is going on I get thirty minutes on my bicycle every day. Period. I make sure that I eat healthy, that I’m not so rushed that I’m having to stop at McDonald’s for my meals. I love music, and so I take out a week each year where I go to a music camp. I have lots and lots of CDs, and some of my favorite times are the 25 minutes it takes to drive to the bus stop to pick up kids from school. I get that time just to listen to some of my favorite songs. I love to sing, and I take Tuesday nights to jam with a group nearby my home. And my husband and I take a couple of nights every month to collect ourselves from all the chaos that we live in to attend the temple. I think it’s very important for a mother to address her needs. I think she can be a better mother if she takes time for herself.
At A Glance
Location: Guatemala and Virginia
Marital status: Married
Children: 18 birth and adopted between the ages of 4 and 42
Occupation: Owner and fundraiser for Casa De Sion Projects in Guatemala, when I am not being a mother and wife
Schools Attended: North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central Law School
Languages Spoken at Home: English, some Spanish
Favorite Hymn: “As Sisters in Zion,” “If You Could Hie to Kolob”
On the Web: www.casadesion.blogspot.com
Interview by Elizabeth Pinborough. Photos used with permission.