At 8 years old, Chekina Ngaissio had already witnessed more trauma than most grown adults ever do.
She could only watch and pray as both of her parents became victims of the sectarian violence in the Central African Republic. Her only refuge was a monastery that had been converted into a refugee camp for families seeking safe harbor, where she recounted the moment her world changed.
“I lifted my hands to God,” Ngaissio said, “but they didn’t hear me. They took away my dad and mother and killed them.”
Ngaissio told NBC Nightly News in January 2014 that Seleka rebels killed her family in a brutal fashion. The rebels attacked cities nationwide and seized control of the government in March 2013, forcing nearly a million people — more than half of them children — to flee their homes for safety by the end of that year.
Greg Daniel, a doctor and businessman, watched Ann Curry’s report from his home in Buffalo, New York.
“I was moved by the story,” Daniel said. “It literally brought tears to my eyes, looking at the situation and seeing what happened to this kid.”
Daniel could only start to imagine the emotions Ngaissio was experiencing. Born in Trinidad, he moved to the United States at age 17 to attend college and was unable to visit his family for four years. The more he thought about Ngaissio, he said, the “thought of wanting to do something” increased inside him.
Although he already had four children of his own and two stepchildren, Daniel decided he would try to adopt Ngaissio.
“I saw it as an opportunity for me to give something back,” he said, “in this case, to a child that was in need.”
Ngaissio arrived in the United States this past February, more than a year after Daniel began his adoption effort, which required approval by the U.S. State Department. Despite the lengthy trip, which took her from Cameroon to France and on to New York, she was bright-eyed when she landed in Buffalo. She gave her adoptive father a big hug and was introduced to two of her new family members.
“I just want to be, like, the best big sister I can for her,” said Paige Daniel, one of Ngaissio's new sisters. “I can't wait to get to know her and experience new things with her.”
The morning after her arrival, Ngaissio was shocked to see her new home surrounded by several feet of snow. She had only seen snow on television, and for the record, despised it and the 8-degree cold that greeted her on her first day in America.
As the snow thawed in the months that followed, Ngaissio warmed up to her surroundings. She now calls Greg Daniel “Papa Greg,” and like most young American girls, has become a fan of taking selfies. She is quick to sing her own rendition of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" and the theme song from the animated movie "Frozen."
On the wall of her new school is a map pinpointing all of the countries that students have come from, many of them with limited English proficiency. The morning Ngaissio arrived, they added the Central African Republic to the map.
Last month, Ngaissio showed Ann Curry she had learned to count to 30 in English and said she wants to become a teacher and return to her home country someday.
“I miss my family,” she said through a translator.
She says she also misses the simple things about life in the country's capital city, including her friends, who she refers to as brothers and sisters.
"I want to go back to Bangui to play with my friends, my brothers and sisters, to eat with them, have fun with them.”
Daniel acknowledges her relocation has not been without challenges. At times she has reminded him that he's not her real father. Still, Daniel says he is optimistic the opportunity he has provided will allow Ngaissio to get an education and become successful, just as his mother intended when she sent him to the United States as a teenager.
“There is an Italian saying that living well is the best revenge,” he said. “I think that her being successful and, ultimately, living well will be the best revenge against the individuals that killed her parents.”