Tyler County mom, daughter find love, family a global bond
NEW MARTINSVILLE — Linda Duncan made sure her daughter Jahnvi had a warm coat to wear and money in her in pocket as she prepared to go out with friends on New Year’s Eve.
The teenage girl put on her coat, told her mom that she loved her and headed out the door.
“She’s been such a blessing in my life,” said Duncan about her daughter. “I’m very very proud of her.”
As this is the beginning of 2017, Duncan’s story about how she came to adopt Jahnvi offers an inspirational tale about how one person can make a difference. The adopted child grew into a gifted athlete and scholar who attends Tyler Consolidated High School.
A native West Virginian, Duncan, 54, grew up in Marion and Wetzel counties and is an alumnus of Hundred High School. Duncan said she was unmarried, but she wanted to raise a child so she decided to adopt.
“I really wanted children,” Duncan said. “My feeling was that there were so many children in this world who needs homes, why not help out? She’s been a blessing since day one.”
Jahnvi’s “backstory” began 17 years ago in India where she was born.
Duncan said when her daughter was four days old, she was abandoned. Fate intervened when a shopkeeper, who took his break at the same time every day like clockwork, found the newborn baby.
The authorities were contacted and inquiries were made through newspaper advertisements seeking the whereabouts of the parents, but no one stepped forward.
The baby was taken to an orphanage in Pune, a large city less than 60 miles from Mumbai, formerly Bombay, a metropolis along the India’s central western coast by the Arabian Sea. There is a high infant mortality rate in that part of the world. No one is certain of Jahnvi’s date of birth, though she would come to designate Sept. 24 as her birthday.
Meanwhile in West Virginia, Duncan reached out to Children’s House International, which has adoption programs all over the world. She recalled how one of the program’s coordinators had adopted children from India and so was knowledgeable about how that process works.
Duncan said though the orphanage where Jahnvi was staying was not fancy. It was one of the better ones because each child was cared for by two workers.
Duncan, a longtime guidance counselor at Tyler Consolidated Middle School, said when she was searching for a child to adopt, the degree of care mattered because a child who doesn’t receive the proper attention at a young age may experience socialization among other problems as they grow into adults.
Duncan recalled searching through the files of potential adoptees when she came across a picture of her future daughter for the first time.
“As soon as I saw her face, I just knew,” she said.
Adopting a child thousands of miles away is no easy feat. Duncan had to hire an attorney to file the proper paperwork not only in India, but the United States.
“There was a lot of red tape in two different countries,” she said. “Because of that, they started showing me information about another child to adopt, but I was attached to Jahnvi since the beginning long before she got here. I wasn’t going to give up. It took a little over a year to get her home, but it was well worth the wait.”
Duncan said though she was prepared to travel to India, she was fortunate that her then 2-year-old daughter was delivered safe and sound to the United States in 2001. When the toddler arrived, Jahnvi didn’t know English, but God has a way of providing a helping hand to those in need, she said.
Dr. Avinash Deshpande, a native of India, had a medical practice in New Martinsville. Duncan said the doctor, who has returned to India, provided a chart with several key words that would allow mother and daughter to communicate with each other until Jahnvi learned English.
“She would light up when I would use those words, but she learned English very quickly,” Duncan said.
Recently on Dec. 22, Jahnvi celebrated her 15th anniversary of coming home for the first time to West Virginia. The teen said she never feels alone because more than anything, her heritage comes from the hills, the people of West Virginia.
“No, I have been given plenty of love and the people around me make me feel like I’m never alone,” she said. “You feel more at home when you have amazing loving people that care about you around.”
Mother and daughter said they have never visited India, but may do so someday. Jahnvi’s biological parents remain a mystery.
“We know nothing,” Duncan said.
During Jahnvi’s time in the Mountain State, she has lived life to its fullest, no denying that. Jahnvi has at least 3.5 GPA and has her name in the sports pages frequently because of her skills as a long distance runner in track and cross country. She aspires to study psychology after she graduates in 2018 from Tyler Consolidated High School.
Jahnvi said she achieves because, “I think it’s just who I am to never leave something you started and feel unsatisfied.”
The fleet-footed teen puts everything into her training; long miles spent running alone or with the Silver Knights. During October’s Regional cross country meet in Flemington, Jahnvi was focused, very intense at the start because the race meant everything to her. These days, she is training for track season that starts in a few weeks. Her race day music is instrumental dubstep, a power packed inspirational tone that focuses the mind.
“A lot of people, even the people closest to me, don’t understand that,” she said. “Only my coach (Breanna Haggerty) knows because she has seen me train and put everything I have into it.”
Jahnvi said her family her teammates mean everything to her.
“If I ever get to a point when I have no one else — which I won’t — I know my family will always be there,” she said.
The Mountain State more than India means everything to this teen.
“It made me who I am; India did not,” she said. “Wherever you are in the world, home is West Virginia.”