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Gustafsons Await Adopted Liberian Children, Former area residents eager to begin new phase in their lives as a ChrOptions


Gustafsons Await Adopted Liberian Children, Former area residents eager to begin new phase in their lives as a ChrOptions 

Jul 5 2007, 08:29 AM

An 11-hour ride back to her home in Monticello, Ark., gave former Ogema resident Becky Schnepf Gustafson a long time to reflect on a most interesting presentation she heard at a women’s retreat in Texas. The speaker had addressed the plight of orphaned children in Liberia and the need to find adoptive homes for them..

“She explained how 20 years of civil war in that African nation has created many orphans who were without adequate food, clothing or medical care,” Gustafson said.

At that time, she and her husband Travis, a native of Brantwood, who have three young biological children, two daughters and a son, were considering adopting another boy through a program in their county. They wanted to “even out’ their family and provide a good home for a child who otherwise would not have one.

“I was concerned about my husband’s reaction to an international adoption, but he was very enthused, so we decided to proceed,” she said. “We contacted the agency and chose a young Liberian boy named Jeffrey who is just a little older than our son Kaleb.”

Gustafson noted that the speaker giving the retreat presentation had also made a “strong case” for adopting older children. She said that orphans have to leave the orphanages at the age of 16 and most end up “living on the street” since Liberia has a very high unemployment rate.

“So I inquired about adopting an older girl, and from pictures that we were e-mailed, chose a 14-year-old girl named Edwina,” she said. “We soon received an e-mail informing us that her best friend, a girl named Frances who she had shared the same room with for many years, was also available for adoption.”

Gustafson said she and her husband were encouraged to adopt both girls and agreed to do so. They were then told that Frances had an older brother, Ezekiel, who was “too old” to be adopted but because of Liberian law, could be “drafted” or added to their family though a younger sibling’s adoption.

“Travis was a bit reluctant to adopt so many children, but I have a mother’s heart and explained that we were the only ones who could give Ezekiel a better life and he wouldn’t have a chance if we didn’t adopt him,” Gustafson said.

The children they were adopting were writing letters to the Gustafsons and when they received one from Ezekiel stating that he was praying they would adopt him, Becky said her husband said, “Lets do it.”

It has been more than a year since the Gustafsons began the adoption process and during that time, they have been involved in fund-raising efforts to obtain the money needed to cover adoption, filing and passport fees, administrative costs and related expenses. They currently need about $12,000 to pay for airplane tickets so Travis can fly to Liberia and bring their four adopted children home.

The Gustafsons purchased a cell phone and sent it to Ezekiel who makes a six-mile round trip on foot at least once a week to the orphanage where the three younger children live. While there, he calls the Gustafsons so they can visit with their adopted children and let them know how much they are looking forward to bringing them “home.”

“After we began the adoption process, we learned that a woman named Fee Fee Jones, who lives just 10 miles from our house, is from Liberia and has been teaching our family all about that country,” Gustafson said. “”Grandma Fee Fee, as we call her, will travel to Liberia with my husband and he and our adopted children will stay with her family while they prepare to travel to Monticello. She has been a real blessing in our lives.”

While working on fund-raising projects, including publishing and selling a cookbook, Gustafson said, she has also been busy getting the house ready for their new family members. Many people have donated clothing, furniture and other needed items and, fortunately, the bedrooms are very large.

“We will have one bedroom for the girls and another for the boys as well as a “toy room” that has a mural of Africa which my sister Sara painted,” she said. “The children are so grateful for every little thing. Even things that we take for granted like new clothing, warm blankets, bikes, soccer balls, and footballs mean the world to them.”

The Gustafsons are a “home-schooling family,” which will make it easier for their adopted children to learn at their own pace, according to their adoptive mother.

“Due to the lack of opportunities and resources, our adopted children are likely to be somewhat behind in their educational levels but are eager to learn,” she said. “In Liberia, education is considered a privilege and is expensive, so most children take any schooling they receive very seriously.”

Travis and Becky, who graduated from Prentice High School respectively in 1993 and 1995, lived in Brantwood, then in Tomahawk following their marriage in 1999. When Travis decided to get into the logging business rather than trucking, the family moved to Arkansas because it had better opportunities for loggers.

“It is hard to be so far away from most of our family, but we absolutely love the area,” Becky said.

It is hard to be patient, but the Gustafsons hope that by the end of summer or early in autumn, all of the paper work will be completed so they can start the “family” part of their adventure. She noted that when people heard that they are adopting four children at once, the response is either “what a wonderful thing to do” or “you must be crazy.”

“We are trying to prepare ourselves as best we can,” she said. “We anticipate that some adjustments may be difficult but we will try to keep everything in perspective.”

As they are becoming part of the Gustafson family, the four children have asked to be given new names which will be stated on their adoption papers along with their Liberian ones. Gustafson noted that, like their biological children, their new middle names are family ones.

Since beginning the adoption process, Gustafson has been posting journal entries online in order to share some of her thoughts and experiences with family members, friends and people who are interested in international adoptions. On her inspirational Web site, www.thegustafsons.blogspot.com, she includes the following quote from Mother Teresa: “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”

2007 Jul 5