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The Marvelous Shani: An International Adoption Story

By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
Photos are provided by Jo Walker

Beautiful. Strong. Able. Although she may be the youngest and littlest member of the Walker household, Shani has certainly made a big impression on her forever family over the last 2 years as she learns to navigate the world with upper limb difference. From drawing, to riding her bike, to keeping up with her older brother and sister, Shani has flourished and is pretty much unstoppable. She’s as adventurous and energetic as any 4-year-old (almost 5), but in her own special way she is teaching those around her how to relate to others who may look or do things a little differently.

When Steve and his wife Jo made the decision to adopt a child, they weren’t quite sure what they were getting themselves into, but as soon as Jo saw Shani’s photo, she knew it was meant to be. With two biological kids of their own, Leah and Ray, the Walkers had not been discussing or thinking about adoption until something happened in 2017. “For 40 days leading up to Easter, I decided to give up an hour of sleep and spend intentional time with the Lord specifically asking Him what He wanted to do in our lives. It was during this time that I felt the Lord asking us to consider adoption,” Jo shared. The couple prayed about what country they should adopt from, and India kept coming to the forefront. They were officially matched with Shani (shortened from Eshani) in January 2021 when she was 6 months old, but the adoption trip was delayed 14 long months due to the pandemic. It wasn’t until after her second birthday that Shani left the orphanage in Chitradurga, India, and travelled across continents to her new home in the United States.

Shani was born with bilateral limb difference and scoliosis, but she truly doesn’t let her physical challenges hold her back from trying new things. Documented by Jo on the family’s Instagram, Shani can be seen participating in various activities including sports, riding a boogie board, and even climbing a tree! With the help of a scoliosis brace, there have also been improvements as she grows. “Shani is incredibly independent and does most of everything that any other 4-year-old can do,” Jo said. “The only time she really wants to use her prosthetic arm is when she is riding her bicycle, otherwise it often hinders her.”

Of course, realistically some adaptations are necessary especially since Shani’s right arm is much shorter than her left and she has four functional fingers. Using her helping tool, she can do things like reach and turn the sink faucet handles by herself. Her adaptiveness serves as a gentle reminder that people who have limb difference often simply find other ways. “Always presume competence – most of the time those with limb differences don’t want or need help,” Jo said. “If they do need assistance, they will ask for help, so treat them the way you would want to be treated.”

In just a few short years together, the Walkers have already learned so much from Shani and she has even inspired two children’s books authored by Jo. The most recent, Angel in Disguise, which came out in the fall of 2023 (available on Amazon) encourages readers of Shani’s story to love themselves for who they are. Jo uses the book as an opportunity to create awareness, advocate, and educate about those who look different. Speaking to kids at schools and church, Jo has found the book to be a great conversation starter and way to promote inclusivity by encouraging children’s natural curiosity.

For any parent who finds out their child will be born with a limb difference, braving the unknown can feel a little scary. But just as first-time parents have a lot of questions in the beginning, families raising children with limb difference will learn how to care for them individually as the Walkers have. “I think the best advice I would give to others is to be patient and appreciate their child’s uniqueness,” Jo shared from her experience. “Every adoption is different, and every child is different so just embrace that child’s specific need.”

There’s no question that Shani was adopted into a loving home and even her name, which means ‘marvelous’ in Swahili (Jo is South African), speaks of her tremendous value and capability. Their support has given her the confidence to be brave. “We already knew she was a masterpiece, fearfully and wonderfully made, but the way she overcomes every situation is just so inspiring,” Jo said. “Shani has taught us that just because she has a limb difference it doesn’t mean she’s disabled; it means she is able in a different way, and we are so incredibly proud of her. It’s an honor and a privilege being her parents.”

Keep up with Shani’s journey on Instagram (@walker_adoption).