Friday, August 18, 2006

My Trip to Liberia

Below is a summary I wrote for our Adoption Agency, Acres of Hope. Many people were asking me write my thoughts of Liberia and the adoption process. It has been humbling to receive positive feedback from this summary that I am embarassed to admit that I wrote between conference calls at work (sorry boss, if you're reading). Keep in mind the audience is for parents who are adopting from Liberia:

My trip to Liberia can be summarized in two categories: the Adoption Process and the Country of Liberia.
The Adoption Process: For those of you who are just starting the adoption process, please beware that the Liberian adoption process is new and everyone is learning something new all the time (AoH, Liberian Government and the US Embassy). We adopted our daughter, Isabel, from China in 2004, and one way to compare the 2 adoptions is that China was like a General Motors assembly plant - all the people have their assignments and execute it daily. It is very much an assembly line adoption process. No surprises, every step outlined and executed flawlessly. As a parent when you go there you are just told where to sign and where to be. While Liberia is like a start up company. Very passionate and excited about how the children are being rescued. New glitches in the system are found frequently and often times the customer who has their order in must wait. This is not to say one is better than the other, but to say that expectations need to be realistic. Two families who came before me to get their children had to stay in Liberia longer than expected, so you can imagine my fear this would be my fate. While there I understood how this could happen and realized I needed to show grace to all parties. This is all about the child and not the parent; so whatever it takes I was willing to do. My point in all this is that I came into this not having realistic expectations; therefore I was not always patient and understanding. My wife and AoH often felt the affects of this; which I am very very sorry.
If only one parent is traveling, please make sure you understand how the I600 form should be filled out with the parent who is staying in the US. Power of Attorney means nothing for this form, the parent in the US must fill it out. We had to fax (scan and email) the I600 form to Angel, have her sign it in front of a
notary public and get it stamped (never use a notary who uses the emboss type
stamp, make sure it is an ink stamp) and then fax it (scan and email it) back to
Liberia. Thank God for the Sheppard's, who I stayed with because, they have
email and a printer, without them we would have been in trouble.
We took all copies of the forms we filled out, but failed to bring receipts, please bring
all receipts because I had to pay 2 times for the I600 fee because the Department of Homeland Security did not communicate to the US Embassy that we had already paid this $545 fee. Now, AoH is working on the Liberian side to get us reimbursed.
The Country of Liberia: It is very hot there, but I forgot about my personal suffering when I saw the poverty and desperate situation of the Liberians. The poverty seemed similar to when I was in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in the late 90s. The difference was at the airport in Honduras there were little children outside the airport begging for money, but in Liberia there were grown men begging for your money (actually, they wanted a tip for "looking after" your bags, even though they may never have touched your bags). The men and teenage boys were on me very quickly saying "I'll carry your bags." Fortunately, AoH was there, and they will get you through this hectic process.
Make sure to take small denominations of money for tips and other small purchases. What happened with me is that I just took $20s, so if something was $10, I got change in Liberian money or in Euros while I was in Brussels. If I would have had 5s and 1s it would have made it easier.
I fell in love with the people very quickly. Actually at the airport in Brussels. Harold Anglin and I were talking to a Liberian man, and all of a sudden he saw a former high school class mate. Many others who were going to Liberia would see old friends they hadn't seen in years. It was beautiful!! The women who saw me with Eva thought it was great that I would adopt a Liberian, but I did run into a few men that would say "why you taking away our wives?"When you get there you will most likely ask yourself "why can't things be better?" From what I saw, granted I was only there a week. The pot holes are the size of in ground pools. There is no such thing as a Sunday stroll in Monrovia because you are dodging the pot holes and dodging the other cars who are dodging their pot holes; all the time hearing every cars beep their horn. To fix the streets you need concrete, to get concrete you need concrete mix, rocks and sand. To get the concrete mix you can have it imported. For example the cost of the bag of concrete mix is about $2.00, but you have to ship it, but if it is shipped on a large ship that ship will have to go to a different port and then put your shipment into a smaller boat so it can get into the port of Monrovia. The Port of Monrovia is the deepest port in the world, but the port has about 6 or 9 sunken ships in it, so the large ships can't get in. So, you have your shipment in the Port of Monrovi! a and you have to pay off everyone and their uncle to get the shipment off the boat. By the time you get your shipment your bag of concrete mix goes from $2 to $50 per bag. This illustration was told to me by a guy who is doing some great humanitarian work and flies back and forth about every other month from the US to Liberia.
Also, the government employees only make about $20 per month, but a bag of rice is $25. The road is not only a tough one to recover from the war, but it seemed to me like they are running backwards up a steep mountain. The UN has a huge presence there, mostly to do check points and at night they work to prevent theft and other night crime. I don't know how the NGOs (Non-Government
Organizations, much like our Non-Profits) keep hope alive. The President is
working to improve things. I saw electric poles and transformers go up all over
the city. They say that by July 26th, Liberian Independence Day, that the city
should have electricity. The benefit for the people immediately will be lighted
streets at night, and for those who have money they can get electricity in their
homes. I was able to talk with a man who had gone to the Ivory Coast as a
refugee during the war. He had some amazing stories of survival and God's
provision. We often see sensational news stories about someone who walked
hundreds of miles to do such and such....that was a common thing for any
Liberian refugee during the war. All this to say that I encourage all of you to
experience Liberia because you will be better equipped to talk to your children
about their people, their history, and the country's future. You will get a glimpse of true struggle, and how people can still be so joyous and friendly.
In closing, expect delays and set backs, expect to be stretched in your faith, and know that AoH is doing everything they can to: care for children they have and make room for those who need to come, please adoptive parents, work with birth parents, process the court documents, arrange the Embassy paperwork, jump over new hurdles, all making sure they are beyond reproach so everyone knows they are not trafficking children.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work Matt, I like this overview, keep them coming, it is helping me an others make decsions regarding thoughts on adoption (in a very good way). The honest truth is what helps.