Trigger Warning- Child Abuse, Abuse, Trauma.
Leceta Chisholm Guibault is determined to give her son Alex the life she knows he deserves, in Canada, living in their cottage home on Lake Mush-a-Mush along Nova Scotia’s southern shore, with her husband Jean and their children. This life however is a stark contrast to the journey of her adopted son, Alex.
Leceta and Jean adopted their daughter Kahleah from Guatemala in 1991, and their son Tristan in 1994 in Medellin, Colombia. Guatemalan- born Alex, a handsome man with a broad white smile, was 19 years old when he met Leceta, the woman who would become his mother.
Alex has survived a brutal childhood in Guatemala and is now healing with the help of his family. Until he was seven, he was forced to work in fields by his biological parents, until the unthinkable happened, and Alex was sold to someone else for $2000. Alex struggles to recall his life prior to that age. With Leceta’s help, he was able to find his biological family. His siblings confirmed that their parents had indeed sold Alex to an organ harvester.
“The first memory that I had was somebody kicking me on the stomach. I got up quickly and started to look around. I didn’t know what was happening,” Alex says.
He remembers he was tied to a pole attached to his ankle and an adult numbered the eleven children he was with; Alex was Number 6. He learned the adults planned to kill them and sell their organs on the black market. Alex managed to escape to the streets of Guatemala City.
Alex remembers there were a lot of gangs and prostitutes. He spent at least a year on those streets, starving and doing inhalants. He witnessed a lot of violence.
In 2019 a report by the Non-Profit organisation, the Borgen Project, claimed of the approximately 50,000 sex trafficking victims reported in Guatemala, almost 60 percent are children. The report showed that it was very common to see girls as young as 12 years old working in brothels and being forced to have sex with large numbers of customers each day.. Alarmingly, with the high number of children being sold for sex trafficking, the revenue is equivalent to 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product (GDP).
When he was nine, a police officer took Alex to an orphanage. While he should have found a haven in the American run orphanage, Alex survived years of unrelenting physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Like all children, he simply wanted a place to belong and feel safe. He prayed and he cried a lot, hoping for a family to save him.
The orphanage director told him he was too ugly and too stupid to be adopted. The haunting childhood picture of Alex with blood on his nose and a crooked smile was taken to be included in a thank-you card one Christmas for an American sponsor. Alex remembers the day that picture was taken. His “dorm parents” had held him down and beaten him, and then shaved his head. Immediately after they made him stand up, demanded he stop crying and look grateful. As a vulnerable child, Alex believed he had to do as they said. At the age of 18, Alex was told to leave the orphanage.
It was on a visit to Guatemala in 2012 that a chance meeting between Leceta and Alex would change the course of both of their lives. Leceta was leading a team of both Canadian and Americans volunteers, most with a background in Child Welfare, at an orphanage that had a community Neurological Centre for children with Special Needs. She was introduced to Alex who was 19 years old, who had been employed as their translator.
“The first time I met her I liked her. She was different. I knew she was different. I could see she was a mom,” Alex tells me. “ I wanted to learn more. Later it was a bit scary. I was learning to trust her and that was a new experience for me. She listened to me. After many months of talking to her, and getting to know her and her knowing me and my story she told me, ‘’if you want, you can call me mom”. It seemed too good to be true because I was feeling it but still scared of my hope. I felt good but confused at the same time.”
“Alex and I immediately connected,” Leceta says, “At the time I didn’t know his story but I did tell him later that his eyes spoke volumes, his eyes said more than his words. He was so intelligent, so inquisitive, yet, his eyes were haunting.”
Later that week, Alex tentatively opened up to Leceta and he started to sob when he said the words, “as a child I was thrown away like a piece of garbage.” Leceta started to cry, her heart broken for Alex.
A bond began to form over the next year, all based on communication. Talking. Learning to trust. In time, Alex found a place in the hearts of Leceta and the entire family. Alex started to disclose the horrors of his childhood, and Leceta realised that Alex had suffered at least twelve years of abuse at the hands of American missionaries. It had been so normalized and Alex had been so emotionally terrorized, as many abused children are, that he blamed himself.
“When I explained that the abuse he suffered was not his fault and why, I did not need to tell him twice,” Leceta explains, “His eyes became bright! The healing began.”
Months later in 2013 Leceta’s husband Jean travelled to Guatemala to meet Alex and spend time getting to know him. Kahleah and Alex got to know each other as they were building projects to aid children together in Guatemala, before Kahleah moved on to her position as a children’s home director. Tristan was the first to suggest adoption, suggesting they take Alex home to Canada to be part of the family. Alex was able to visit Canada on a visa in 2015.
Adopting Alex was not quite as easy as the family first imagined with international adoption from Guatemala to Canada closing in 2001.
“We decided that Alex would apply to the CNA, Guatemala’s National adoption authority, for his right to be adopted. He named my husband Jean and I as his parents of choice. He was told no, he could not be adopted by Canadians. We did not give up. Alex went on national television sharing his story and his quest for a legal and loving family by adoption.”
The family won their two year fight in 2016 when the CNA changed the law to allow Alex to be legally adopted by Leceta and Jean. The family still had obstacles to get through including intensive home study and psychological testing, which were all approved. On August 4th, 2016 Alex legally became Leceta and Jean’s son.
In January 2021, Alex received a call from Canadian immigration. Alexander Chisholm Guibault is now officially a Canadian.
“My life has changed in every way, all to positive of course,” says Alex, “I no longer have nightmares or suicidal thoughts and I no longer blame myself for my past. In my orphanage I was made to believe that I deserved all of the abuse and it was all was my fault. My mom has helped me to overcome my pain, she has taught me about my rights and she keeps teaching me about family. Being in Canada has been the best thing ever, everyone is kind to me, it is a peaceful country to live in. Canada is my therapy, my safe place along with my mom, dad, brother and others. I am so excited to find a job and go to school, to live life like a normal Canadian is my goal. I love my life now. Everything is much easier with a family. I am a proud Canadian.”
Alex plans to continue his fight for children’s rights and to fight for people do not have a voice. Alex and his mother support projects in Guatemala supporting children and families in need, delivering more than 3500 bunk-beds and scholarships for more than 200 students. They have helped to build a school for a community, but Alex says there is still much more to do.
“I would like to help open international adoptions again. Children need families. We don’t need bigger orphanages or institutions. Every person has the right to a family. We all need to be loved, no matter the age.”
Much has changed for Alex who is currently writing his memoir, entitled Looking back, I found my Future which he says has been a difficult but cathartic process. He and Leceta have travelled across Canada and the USA, sharing Alex’s story with thousands of people and raising awareness of the plight of children in orphanages across Guatemala.
Alex has now taken legal action against Casa Aleluya, an orphanage run by Build Your House on the Rock, a Louisiana-based Christian group. The lawsuit was filed in Louisiana by lawyers working for Alex, seeking unspecified damages. He got news the civil action had been filed on his 28th birthday.
“I feel like this is the best birthday gift,” he said. “Finally, justice is going to be served. I would say I’ve been waiting for this pretty much my whole life.”
As for Leceta, she couldn’t be prouder of her son as they continue to seek justice for Alex. She has proven that the love she has for Alex knows no boundaries.
“Alex is 100 percent my son,” says Leceta, ”Sometimes I forget that I missed the first 19 years of his life. I mourn those years”