Veronica “Miss Sally” Benjamin grew up in Trinidad with her aunt, who had no other children and treated her as a little adult. After her aunt died, Miss Sally returned to her parents. At about age 14, she was deemed the responsible one in the family who “knew how to do things,” so her parents entrusted her ten younger siblings to her care. Even though her big heart led her to quit school to work and look after them, she said, “foster care is not something I dreamed about growing up. I am a seamstress by trade. I like designing costumes and things like that.”
A few years later, when Miss Sally moved to Sint Maarten as a young bride, she found herself caring for the children of her husband’s work colleague, who had decided they wanted to stay with her. “They didn’t know me, but people’s children seem to hold on to me for some reason,” she said. And after caring for more than 50 children over nearly 60 years, Miss Sally, 71, is still going strong. Her path to fostering began when a friend asked her to take care of five siblings whose mother was sick. Miss Sally declined because her work required frequent travel and her husband could not care for them alone, but two years later, she heard her friends discussing five siblings who were being mistreated to the point that the eldest ran away—they were the same five she had turned away.
“I felt so rotten. That was Christmas Day. The Court of Guardianship [which oversees foster care in Sint Maarten] reopened on January 6. I went straight to them and requested they give me the children. And they did. After that, the Court kept calling me asking if I could take in more children and I kept saying yes because I couldn’t bear to hear another story like that again.”
Miss Sally and her husband cared for the children they took in on their own, supplemented by a small state stipend of about US$280 per child. As they were growing older, they considered winding down after 20 years of fostering, but social services instead persuaded her to create the New Start for Children Foundation. “It was nothing planned. I always say when you come here on Earth, whatever you have to do, you have to do it before you leave. And I guess this is it.”