Life in a new land, free from strife, struggle

28 March 2005

Life in a new land, free from strife, struggle

Newberg family adopts 14-month-old Shayna, a Liberian girl abandoned in infancy

By Schellene Clendenin, Newberg Graphic reporter

E-mail Schellene at

Fourteen-month-old Shayna Trachte loves to dance, even without music.

Her bright brown eyes sparkle when she smiles at her big brother, Sam, and she has a deep, infectious belly laugh. She can say “momma,” “daddy,” “duck” and “dog.”

It’s obvious that she’s been cared for since birth, said mom Lynn Trachte of Newberg. The Trachte family recently adopted Shayna with the help of PLAN Loving Adoptions Now, a McMinnville-based nonprofit agency.

Since the agency opened in 1978 it has placed thousands of children from around the world in homes in the United States.

Though shy at first, Shayna is most comfortable with children and adores her three new brothers: Sam, 10, Caleb, 12, and Colin, 14. Lynn has never seen Shayna’s biological mom. And except for the first few days of her life, neither has Shayna.

A little Blessing

Just days after her birth Shayna was left on the doorway of a family with nine children in Nimba County, located outside Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia. Her umbilical cord was still attached.

Her new family, a minister and his wife, named her Blessing and gave her their last name, Kallon. “It’s not outside the culture for a family to just keep a child like that,” said Judy Elkins, international program director for PLAN Loving Adoptions Now. The program places children from Liberia, Guatemala, China and Vietnam. Most often, the children placed are ages 3 to 6. The group also places children born in the United States.

The couple cared for Shayna for three or four months before deciding they didn’t have enough room for her in their small home. They wanted to give Shayna an opportunity to be adopted.

They took her to an orphanage sponsored by Hope for the Nation, a program that provides foster homes for children who have been orphaned or abandoned, Elkins said. Shayna remained in foster care with the program for at least eight months before she was sent to her new family in Newberg.

In Newberg, the Trachtes had been discussed adding a daughter to their brood of three boys. Sam Trachte was all for the idea of having a younger sibling, though he was planning on a brother. “As long as I didn’t have to change diapers,” he said.

In January 2005, the couple began the process of planning for a new child in their home. The process was completed on Feb. 27 when the couple met Shayna at Portland International Airport for the first time.

Stories of Africa

The stories emanating from Africa are enough to raise the hair on the backs of anyone’s neck. Unstable peace, rebel insurgency and an AIDS epidemic that affects more than 4 million people, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Almost 3.5 million people populate the West African country of Liberia, roughly the size of Tennessee, according to the Web site About 200,000 more live in neighboring countries.

Just more than 6 percent of the land can be farmed in an area in which tropical rain forest deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage have ravaged the environment.

About 130 children per 1,000 die in infancy. Most adults die before they reach 40. The risk for contracting a major infectious disease, such as malaria or yellow fever, is high.

Linda Vollman and Elkins were sent to Liberia in February to pick up five children who had been adopted by families in the United States. Shayna was one of them.

The rest of the children — all boys — were taken to homes in other states, including a pair of brothers who were adopted by a family in Oklahoma.

Elkins, who oversees all the international PLAN programs, said the trip was wonderful. “Liberia is a fascinating country to go to,” she said. “The people are warm and friendly and so devastated because of civil war. But now they are full of optimism.”

Their optimism stems from the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman elected to the office.

Shayna’s new family

The Trachtes completed the adoption paperwork this past summer. In August, the family was at a PLAN picnic when one of the coordinators approached Lynn. They had a little girl for her. Lynn was speechless.

“I couldn’t talk,” she admitted later. “I was blubbering. It was embarrassing.”

The next round of paperwork began.

Then Elkins and Vollman traveled to Monrovia to pick up the children. Shayna wanted nothing to do with Elkins and Vollman at first. Their white faces were completely foreign to her.

Often countries — such as Russia— require would-be parents to travel to the country before adoption can occur. But in Shayna’s case, travel to Liberia was unnecessary to complete the adoption. The Trachtes were discouraged from making the trip, Elkins said, adding that Liberia is not a safe place for inexperienced travelers with the intense heat, unrest and chance of contracting a disease.

Lynn said a hitch in the process — extra forms required by the embassy — may have delayed Shayna’s trip to the United States, but the family and the adoption agency went into action. The final signature wasn’t dry on the forms when Shayna boarded the airplane to the United States.

With her family

When she arrived in Portland Shayna was tired and had a head cold. But after a few days she was already firmly attached to her big brothers.

Paul carried her around in a sling for the first week after she arrived in Newberg. After about a week she became a bubbly, playful little girl.

Shayna likes to be carried, Sam said, as he balances Shayna expertly on one hip. “In Africa they carry their babies around all day,” he said.

“She likes anyone who will hold her,” Caleb agreed, adding that his new little sister loves being pushed in her stroller. “She likes going fast.”

Sam agreed. “I wanted a younger sibling,” he said. “I’m happy with her.”

Paul Trachte said a friend of his in Kenya called his family heroes for adopting Shayna. Without the family’s decision to adopt, Paul’s friend felt she may not live to adolescence. But Paul, who attends Newberg Christian Church, said he feels God led him to become Shayna’s father.

“How can you not help but love her?” he said.