A judge asked this child to describe his relationship with his teacher. When he cried, everyone went silent.
Javier Castellano seemed to have the perfect life. Born in Cordoba, Argentina, he studied design and photography in Spain before getting great jobs and traveling to his heart’s content. But he had an itch to do something different and eventually, he decided to scratch it.
He packed his bags at age 34, went home to Argentina, bought a plot of land in the place his family used to go on vacation, and built a little stone house in the nearby village of 50 inhabitants, called Los Algarrobos. He didn’t know it at the time, but that quiet place was going to give him the biggest adventure of his life yet.
Soon after arriving, Javier decided to approach the village school as a volunteer. It had 16 pupils with one teacher who also doubled as principal. All the children sat in the same class regardless of age, most coming from illiterate families. “When I arrived, I realized the government had given them computers. But no one knew how to use them, not even the teacher. So I told them, don’t worry, I can show you, and no, you don’t have to pay me.”
Then while he was training the kids on how to use computers, he had an encounter that would change his life. A five-year-old child called Gabriel attended the school. Days after having him, his parents, who didn't have the means to care for him, gave him to his grandmother. Though she’d always lived in the country, Adela was sure that Gabriel needed to go to school.
After getting to know Gabriel and being impressed by Adela’s generosity and hard work, Javier became close to them — over time, almost like a member of the family. “He would come to my house and I would visit them, bringing him gifts on his birthday — since Gabriel had never had a birthday. Though he’d suffered some very ugly things, he was a totally cheerful boy, someone who showed you that joy is a matter of spirit.”
Then tragedy struck. Adela was diagnosed with cancer and despite traveling to Cordoba for treatment, she died, leaving Gabriel completely alone.
A committee met to decide what should happen to the boy, now that he had no guardian. When no one else stepped up, Javier realized: “I’m the one, I’m going to take care of him. He can’t be sent away from here — this is his home, his school.”
Gabriel and Javier weren’t biologically related but everyone in the village saw what a strong relationship they had. So a decision was made: Javier would become Gabriel’s guardian for two years as an initial step. After those two years the guardianship was renewed and Gabriel soon considered Javier’s family his own as well.
But the law was clear: once this period was over, Gabriel would need to find a new family, since Argentina (bafflingly) doesn’t allow guardians to officially adopt the children under their care. When Gabriel turned 11 his life seemed like it was about to collapse.
The only option they had was to take the case to court. Gabriel’s biological parents even came before the judge, declaring that they agreed to let Javier continue to look after their son. But the most emotional moment came when Gabriel testified. He described, between tears, that he didn’t want to be separated from his “teacher-dad” who had appeared out of the blue in their village opening a world of opportunity and taking care of him as if Gabriel were his own son.
Everyone waited on tenterhooks as the judge considered the case. When he emerged to read his decision, they heard the news with enormous relief: Javier would be allowed to raise Gabriel! The judge explained that he based the opinion on the psychological damage another change of families would inflict on the child.
And that’s how, out in the middle of the Argentinian sierra, Javier Castellano found himself on the greatest journey of his life. He didn’t conceive this child but he chose to be his father. Whatever challenges they may face next as a family, they’re clearly stronger together! So wonderful for Gabriel that he now has not just a loving guardian but a real parent.