By Josh Staloch
GREEN BAY – Try to imagine being seven years old and surviving a major earthquake – feeling the very ground you’re standing on shake violently underneath you and the walls caving in around you.
Now, imagine what it would be like to find yourself alone and trapped underneath the rubble – pinned down by pounds and pounds of cement and wreckage, for days, though you are unsure exactly how many.
Now, imagine one more terrifying thing… You can’t hear any of it.
These exact events happened to Green Bay senior Moneika Snyder in Haiti in 2010.
She was away from her mother at the time at a school for the deaf.
“I wasn’t really sure what was happening,” Snyder said with the help of Southwest High School interpreter Lisa Andreas. “The earthquake started and things were falling, breaking. The whole place we were in was destroyed.”
Somehow, Snyder survived long enough for rescue crews to get her pulled to safety, at which point, she said, concern for her mother, grandmother and aunt, whom she was now separated from, overcame her.
Snyder said the fear was mutual as her mother, Mona, who is also deaf, couldn’t locate her either.
For two weeks, Moneika said she lived in a camp set up on a soccer field before being found by her family.
Enter the Snyders
Joy and Ron Snyder, of Green Bay, went to Haiti in 2010 as part of a missionary trip with Green Bay Community Church.
Joy said they handed out food, water and tents to people displaced by the earthquake.
She said they were staying as guests in a home that was also housing unaccompanied children at the time, and Moneika was one of them.
After getting to know her, the Snyders tried to help Moneika from afar, or, more specifically, from Green Bay.
Joy said they helped get her into a new boarding school for the deaf, but it wasn’t long before hurricanes came and made that situation unsafe, as well.
“Her foster mom called in the middle of the night screaming in Creole, which I did not understand at the time,” Joy said. “She was telling us that she was leaving the country and leaving Moneika with a neighbor.”
From there, the Snyders said they arranged to have someone make their way through the flooding caused by the hurricane, find Moneika, and get her back to her family.
But it was clear at that point, Snyder said, that they would not be able to help Moneika long-term, as long as she remained living in Haiti.
Joy said they loved her too much to leave her in a place where she would have to struggle so much, just to survive.
Meant to be
Through the help of multiple interpreters, Joy said she and Ron, empty nesters for eight years at that point, reached out to Monekia’s birth family regarding the possibility of adopting her and bringing her to the U.S.
She said they wrote a book and took tons of photos explaining how they could adopt her, bring her to America, get her an education and love her like she was one of their own.
Joy said Moneika’s biological mom saw this as the answer to her prayers.
Mona said she knew from her own experiences how hard it was going to be to grow up safely in Haiti.
So began the long, four-year process of getting Moneika to Wisconsin and settled in at the Snyder farm, where she, accompanied by her service dog, Bella, enjoy feeding the horses and spending time with all the other animals.
Southwest, the puzzle’s final piece
Joy said she believes part of why her family was led to Moneika was because she needed to end up with what she refers to as “an amazing group of interpreters and teachers.”
She said the classrooms at Southwest have been a safe place for Moneika to flourish.
“They are so supportive, and no matter what was happening, they have always been there for her,” Joy said. “With (Moneika’s) post-traumatic stress disorder, she can be triggered easily. Her flashbacks used to come on so strong and fast that she’d just collapse in the middle of the lunchroom. (The staff at Southwest) stood by her and supported her better than I could at home. I don’t know we’d get that anywhere else.”
Looking toward the future
Moneika works part time at a restaurant in Vickery Village in Suamico, and said she enjoys how busy it gets on Friday for fish fries.
She also volunteers at an organization called Hand in Hand, a group dedicated to helping young children learn sign language.
After graduation this summer, she said she plans on getting started on her future as an educator of some kind, she hasn’t exactly decided yet.
Joy said she has done what she can to help other families in possibly similar situations.
She currently teaches an American Sign Language class online, and said it’s geared toward hearing people who might want to learn a bit of sign language to communicate with a deaf friend or family member.
Her video lessons can be found by searching for her name on YouTube and Facebook.
By Josh Staloch