Skipping through airports, passports in hand, dressed sleekly in black with a simple leather bag and looking fabulous. Well, those people may exist in Vogue, but they sure aren’t part of the P143 interview team.
At this point, I’ve been on three P143 interview trips and, while it is exciting, it’s certainly not very glamorous. Packing and repacking carry-ons, carrying a high quality camera and lens, phone, laptop, notes, multiple chargers, international converters and all the other needs leaves little room for maneuvering easily with a stylish leather bag. Schlepping is a more appropriate term. The team also has to figure out a way to pack the little gifts that we give each child after interviews, along with enough wash-and-wear clothing for two weeks of international travel. Interview trips are bare-bones. We share tiny European hotel rooms in safe hotels, but not luxurious ones. There’s nothing like sleeping 6 inches from a stranger to make you strangers no more! Add in the travel across countries in tiny cars and, suddenly, the need for black coffee is amplified to a previously unimaginable level.
Interview teams typically are comprised of a P143 interviewer, photographer and translator. During winter interview trips, teams are scheduled to arrive at orphanages and orphan courts in the mid-to-late afternoon because the children are in school during the day. Factor in travel distances and time on rough roads in winter weather and it all makes for some really long days. We usually have several appointments scheduled per day, and it’s always a rush from one to the next. Then, an orphanage may have thought they only had five children for us to interview, but we arrive to find 15 children ready to meet us.
The children are nervous and shy during their interviews. Some are excited about a potential visit to America, while others may have interviewed several times and have yet to be chosen for hosting. The interviewer works with a translator, asking specific questions and trying to make a unique connection with the child beyond the language barrier. The interviewer is listening and typing the responses in real-time from the translator. I am extremely thankful for my high school typing teacher in times like these! We do our best to ask open-ended questions to yield answers that give us a glimpse into the child’s personalities and interests. There is an art to connecting with a child you have just met to glean what makes them special. I have been fortunate to observe some of the best interviewers P143 has and frequently imitate them when I am on my own. During these interviews, the P143 team also gets additional information that orphanage directors are willing to share with us regarding personality, behavior and medical information. Interviewing potential host children is wonderful and each child is a blessing, bringing his or her own gifts to life and to the P143 program. However, each child is being interviewed by P143 due to a history of great loss and grief in their lives. This can be difficult for the interview team to absorb over and over again, day after day. It’s hard to hear these stories of sadness in these beautiful children’s lives and to see the toll it has taken on their personalities and outlook on the future.
But there’s another factor to the interviews and that’s what we all see on the photolisting — the photos! It is an understatement to say how important great photos are to our organization. Each of us connects visually to some degree, and a photo does make a difference in a child’s chance of being chosen for hosting. Americans enjoy great big smiles, however, the rest of the world is uncomfortable with toothy grins. Trying to get a child you’ve just met to smile genuinely is not a task for the faint of heart. It sometimes turns into something resembling a toddler photo shoot, with funny faces and props but also terrible industrial lighting. There is no end to what a P143 photographer is willing to do to get that winning shot.
After visits to interview the children, the information and photos all need to be uploaded to the database. Database information needs to be updated, double-checked, triple-checked — and this is often all done on the road (literally) on laptops. Often, the interview teams return to the hotel late in the evening with hours of work ahead to update children’s information and label photos for the U.S. team to place into the photolisting. Teams work into the wee hours of the morning (think 2 or 3 a.m.) and occasionally even later to get the information compiled before starting a new day of interviews. Five to six hours of sleep is a dream for an interview team member. Sound glamorous yet? We haven’t mentioned eating. The team needs to eat. We are great connoisseurs of gas station food where “delicious” sandwiches, smoothies, and unhealthy candy options sometimes fuel us to the next interview destination. At least there is coffee at every gas station.
Interview trips rarely run smoothly — whether it’s a cancelled appointment once we’re halfway there or a blown tire between orphanages on a pothole-ridden road with three women who have never changed a tire before. The interview teams need to stay flexible, alert and ready to make adjustments hourly.
In the end, each of the interviewed children deserves hope. Hope is what P143 offers through our hosting programs. Hope for a break from their orphanage life. Hope for finding a family to love them and cherish them. Hope for learning new positive ways of connecting to other human beings and learning how to be part of a functional family. It is that hope that keeps the interview teams going and fuels us through weeks of overseas interviews. Project 143 offers HOPE for orphans through HOSTING!
Thank you to Project 143 volunteer Barbara Engeriser for her tireless work on our interview trips and for contributing to this article.