by Samuel Hall

Christine Gilman just returned from Liberia where she was part of a research team for the Liberia Adoption Project, a joint venture between Plan Loving Adoptions Now, African Christians Fellowship International and National Gospel Outreach. I talked to Christine about the project and conditions in Liberia.

Q: Why did you go to Liberia, a country still under siege of a ten-year civil war?

Christine: I went to Liberia as part of a team sent to photograph, research and document children orphaned because of the war. Approximately 70 children are being considered for placement in the U.S. next summer.

Q: Give us your impression upon arriving in Monrovia, Liberia.

Christine: The first impression is daunting! Arriving at the airport one immediately is aware of the armed military police surrounding all entrances and exits of the terminal. Staying alert is a requirement there. The forty-five minute bus ride into Monrovia gives you a bird's eye view of the country and it's many contrasts. Timber resources, lush greenery, abundant banana and coconut trees . . . and children pausing to look and wave and smile. Bamboo huts and burned out vehicles line the highway.

Q: Describe your thoughts when visiting the orphanages.

Christine: My first thoughts were a mixture of disbelief and shock. My mind struggled to comprehend their extreme poverty. The buildings were reminiscent of an abandoned farm, only the children were living in the chicken coop. Dirt floors and windowless. As soon as our taxi arrived children spilled out from every corner of the orphanage compound. They were radiant beams of sunshine and in full possession of joy! This I didn't expect.

Q: What condition did you find the children? Are they suffering from disease and malnutrition?

Christine: Some children are showing the effects of malnutrition-freckled faces and lighter skin and hair color are indications I am told. A few suffer with sores on their arms and legs. Conditions have improved in the last year. They are eating more than once a day thanks to African Christian Fellowship International and other organizations. They are able to maintain a bare minimum of care. However, the most basic services are absent such as clean drinking water, electricity, and plumbing facilities. Classes are conducted on the compound but paper, pencils, crayon and books were no where to be found. The only sport equipment was a disintegrated mattress set out in the dirt for children to wrestle on. Food is prepared on wok-like structures outdoors. Their main staple is rice and cassava from the cassava plant and plantain (small bananas) Dairy products do not exist for these orphans, as there is no refrigeration. Protein comes at a premium. Their health is generally stable although a young toddler recently died from measles; vaccinations are not a part of life here.

Q: All the hardship and impoverished living conditions--how did that impact you?

Christine: The living conditions are difficult to witness. My heart aches for them. Everybody deserves to belong to someone, to have a family. Most of these young adults witnessed war. These children need homes, a place to feel loved and a chance at life. My response to your question is; frankly, I am forever ruined for the ordinary. I must respond to this need. Helping to find homes for these children will be a priority. The Word is clear about caring for the orphans and the widows. I am still defining what that means for our family and me. Inevitably, we will be more "other" centered.

Q: How was the reality of the orphaned children different from your expectations?

Christine: The young children know little of there past. Names, birthrates, siblings... all are lost. They have abandoned themselves to living where they are and as best as they can. They seem content and are very communal in their existence here. The older children remember the war and you see pain in them. The teenagers struggle to reconstruct trust and security; they have difficulty looking at you during a conversation. Yet, they respond so warmly to affection. Responsibility for each other is a must and a sense of family exists among them be it ever so humble. It is truly a village of children caring for children. I marvel at the system the caretakers have within.

Q: What makes an orphaned child appealing?

Christine: These are Liberian children. Liberia considers them as "national treasures." In the face of their tragic personal histories, most of them want to get on with the business of living. They are ready and willing to embrace the future and risk trusting again. Their ability to bond is still intact. That is a miracle. I am told that Liberian is a "faith people." Indeed!

Q: How can we make a difference?

Christine: The Liberia Adoption Project has set up 3 ways to help: Adopt a child, Adoption Scholarships, Contribute to a fund used to underwrite adoption costs Corporate Sponsorships.

If you are interested in adopting a child or are willing to enable another family to do so, please contact: Liberia Adoption Project, Post Office Box 667, 203 E. 3rd St., Second Floor, McMinnville, Or. 97128, 503-472-8452,