DANVILLE — Liz Sookarry grew up with seven siblings, but she never planned on having a big family of her own.
That was until she and her husband, Sharma, learned that three of their young relatives, who live on the other side of the world, were in need of a good home.
Now the Danville couple, who have two young sons of their own, are planning to bring the children — Reshmi, 11; Purnima, 8; and Nakul, 4 — from the Republic of Mauritius to the United States and eventually adopt them.
They recently launched a series of fund raisers to help them pay for the costly legal and immigration fees and traveling expenses.
"It's going to be a long process. But we're excited to bring the children here and into a loving home," Sharma said.
Liz grew up in Danville and graduated from Danville High in 1994. After being bitten by the travel bug, she moved to England to work as a jewelry designer.
Sharma grew up in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 1,200 miles off the southeast coast of Africa. When he was 19, he moved to England and worked in healthcare including as a psychiatric nurse manager.
The two met in England and have been married for 12 years. They moved to Danville about three years ago, so that Liz could help run the family business — Country Store Health Foods, at 3618 N. Vermilion St. — with her brother, David Hurley.
The Sookarrys have a 3-year-old son, William, and a 1-year-old son, Anthony. Sharma also has two adult children back in England.
The children that the couple plan to adopt belong to Sharma's nephew, the son of his older brother and only sibling. The Sookarrys said their mother suffers from mental illness, and their father, who once had a stable job, fell on hard times.
"They weren't able to care for their kids properly," Liz said, adding they weren't receiving proper nutrition or attending school regularly, among other things.
A couple of years ago, the children were removed from their father's care after Nakul, then 2, was hospitalized after an infection went unnoticed. He fell into a coma and was hospitalized for nearly a month. After the boy recovered, Sharma traveled to Mauritius to help find a suitable home for the kids. They were placed in foster care with their mother's oldest brother and his wife, who were already in their 60s and retired.
The Sookarrys sent money to help pay for the children's food, medicine, clothing and schooling. When his brother suffered a stroke and died in December, Sharma — now the patriarch of the family — saw the kids again and came home and talked to his wife.
"He could see they were getting food and an education, but they weren't getting love," Liz said, adding that's when the couple made the decision to try to adopt them. "We knew we could give them love and some stability in their lives."
After talking to the immigration lawyer who worked on Sharma's visa, the couple learned it would cost $30,000 to bring the children to the U.S. That includes $5,000 for lawyer's fees, $6,000 for a home study, $6,000 for filing paperwork with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, fees for a lawyer and judge in Mauritius; and about $10,000 in airfare.
Tina Hurley, Liz's mother, said she worried about how the couple would find the money.
"But then the family came together and came up with a plan" to hold fund raisers, she said.
Liz said it has helped to have a family business that's been in the community for more than three decades. Her grandparents, Tom and Lorraine Martinek, opened the store in 1977, and her mother managed it and later, bought it from them.
Once customers heard about the couple's plans, they began donating money to help them.
"I can't believe how generous people are," Tina Hurley said. "So many people have come forward and put $1, $5, $10, some people even put $20, into the jar. It's really heartwarming."
"It's very humbling to know that so many people would support us," Sharma added. "We're very grateful to everyone who's been helping out."
The Sookarrys were able to retain the lawyer with money they raised through donations and fund raisers, including a yard sale and bake sale. The store is currently holding a silent auction for vitamin supplements, running through Saturday.
Now they're planning several community dinners, including two authentic curry dinners prepared by Sharma, who owned a restaurant for a couple of years in England in between nursing jobs.
"We're hoping to reach out to people who aren't necessarily our customers but find this a worthwhile cause," Liz said.
The Sookarrys had hoped to bring the children over by Christmas, but they don't think that will happen. The new goal is Easter 2014, which is around Reshmi's birthday.
Liz, who got to know Reshmi and Purnima during visits to Mauritius and taught the girls, who speak Mauritian Creole and French, some English, said that day still seems far off. In the meantime, they keep in touch with the kids by phone and care packages.
"Back in March we called the kids on Reshmi's birthday, and she thanked us for her presents and for helping to take care of her. She said for her next birthday, she didn't want any presents. She just wants a hug. That's been a fire in me."