Since she was a little girl, junior International Relations major Francia Dervilus has dreamed big. Though her resources were limited growing up in the Dominican Republic, Francia did not let her circumstances stifle her resolve. She did what she could, and God provided the open doors.
Dervilus is originally from Haiti, but her mother and grandmother moved to the Dominican Republic after she was born for more job opportunities. Francia never knew her father, and her mother died of AIDS when Dervilus was only six years old. She and her younger brother were left in the care of their grandmother. Her grandmother heard from a friend there was an American woman named Danita Estrella who had opened an orphanage near the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The orphanage is called “Danita’s Children: Hope for Haiti.”
“She just brought us there, and left,” Dervilus said. “When she left, I ran around crying the whole day, looking for her. Ever since she put us there, I haven’t seen her. I don’t know if she died, if she’s alive. I don’t have any contact.”
Dervilus was only 7 years old when she and her brother arrived at the orphanage. Despite feelings of rejection and distrust, God had a larger plan for Dervilus’ life. The orphanage proved to be a place of healing and opportunity.
“It’s a big campus,” Dervilus said. “We have a school, a hospital, a church, and they just got a property for farming. It’s expanding. Basically, they just take care of kids and we have a school that provides not only for those who live in the orphanage, but is also open for the community.”
Under the care of Hope for Haiti, Francia was given a good education for free and learned about the Gospel.
“I was given the opportunity to live a different life. I got a lot of opportunities to just learn different stuff, to learn to dream big. Ever since I was little, I was told, ‘Don’t limit yourself. Just dream big. God can always open doors for you.’”
ORU alumni Jake Jones visited Haiti many times to help with the orphanage and Danita’s ministry. When he met Dervilus and noticed how big her dreams were, he encouraged her to pray about attending ORU.
“Ever since ‘99, she really stood out to me, very bright and very inquisitive,” Jones said. “So all the time that I would go, I would always try to plant the seed in her that God can do anything.”
After lots of prayer and seeking the Lord, Francia knew that ORU was the place for her. Jones helped Dervilus by writing a letter of recommendation and nominating her to compete for the Quest Whole Person Scholarship.
Dervilus was admitted but the orphanage was not able to support her financially. Estrella, who Francia now refers to as ‘Mom,’ and Francia prayed and trusted that the Lord would open the door.
“It’s been a long journey for me to come here,” Dervilus said. “Every year is the same; my mom says, ‘You have to pray because personally, we are not able to pay that much.’ It’s a lot to cover, and I’m not the only one who graduated and wants to go to college. The orphanage has 117 kids, and a lot of kids are graduating.”
Miraculously, God has continued to provide the funds for Dervilus’ schooling, through scholarships, church fundraising and sponsorships.
“I’ve learned a lot. Trusting God is one of my biggest things,” Dervilus said. “I know He has a plan for me and He wants the best for His children, but sometimes, because things will be so hard and complicated, you know: life, that’s one thing that I’m still learning. God, I’m still trusting in every decision that I make, You first.”
Dervilus hopes to return to Haiti after finishing her degree to help out at the orphanage and study to be a human rights lawyer. She wants to help reform the legal system in Haiti and provide more opportunities for women and children. God taught Dervilus the importance of trust and has redefined her identity as a daughter of the King.
“To be honest, growing up, I’ve struggled a lot,” Dervilus admitted. “Because of rejection and because my grandmother just left me there and left, I felt like nobody really wanted me. Now I know, it was for the better, but growing up, I really struggled with my identity. I’ve grown so much. It’s been a long, long journey.”