Return to Homeland Opens Eyes

of 3 Bolivian-born Youths

by Paul Turner
Special to the Catholic Key

The Bolivian sister at Coripata thought Rev. Don Powers was joking.  "These are not North Americans."

The Missouri priest was introducing the predominantly white-faced delegation from the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.  As the group streamed through the convent gate, the local missionary halted their progress to stare at teenagers Matt Morgan, Scott Gibson, and Chris Graham.

"These are not North American," she protested.  She was partly right.  Their features are undeniably Bolivian.  But their passports, their clothes, their speech, and their tastes are from the U.S. of A.

Matt, Scott, and Chris were born in La Paz in the Mid-1970's.  Their natural parents left them at local orphanages.

Father Chuck Tobin, a priest from the diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph on mission in Bolivia, agreed to help some families in the United States with adoption proceedings.  At about age 2, Matt, Scott, and Chris found homes in North America, where they have spent their lives since then.

Until this summer.

When the diocese announced a pilgrimage to La Paz for the 25th anniversary of its mission parish San Antonio, Father Tobin contacted the three jovenes to see if they would like to go along.  Now as teens, they would have the opportunity to experience the place of their birth.

"I learned about the people and how they lived." said Matt, 15, "how poor they were.  Many of them have no homes.  They live on the street and they try to get money."

The poor are evident in the cities, but in the surrounding countryside Bolivia's natural resources are breathtaking.  "I enjoyed seeing all the places that we went to," said Matt.  He especially liked the mountains on the road to Coripata.

Wherever the three North Americans went, Bolivian youths took to them like old friends.  What impressed Scott, 16, most was the kids.  "They don't put down each other like they do at home.  They're more sensitive because they don't have that much.  They have one another."

Has the trip South changed Scott?  "I think it's kinda changed me.  I learned you don't need materialistic things to be happy."  What makes  someone happy?  "If other people love them."

"On the day I left when I was two all the kids in the orphanage came to say goodbye to me," Chris, 16, said, "and the same thing happened 14 years later."  When the delegation arrived at the La Paz airport to prepare for its departure from Bolivia, the terminal quickly became jammed with dozens of Bolivian youth who came to say goodbye.  They sang songs, hugged their new friends, and cried many a tear.

"I realize now I have a life in Bolivia and a life in the U.S.," Chris continued.  "I have a family in both places.  Some of the things I saw were hard.  At times I felt hatred toward all the other countries in general.  The Bolivians have more heart than any other place I've been.  They're happy.  The one thing I'll remember is about the kids.  I'll always have visions of us singing and dancing."

[Special Article published in the Catholic Key on September 23, 1990]

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