There’s lots of talk these days about whether electronic technology is a friend or a foe. Most of us couldn’t live for long without our cell phones or computers. Here at Project Life we love the fact that we can quickly and easily share pictures and send messages to orphans who have returned to their homes halfway around the world. We can save our hard-earned donation dollars by phoning via Skype and other internet based phone services instead of using our expensive land line.
This week we are getting a taste of the downside of our world’s dependence on high tech systems. On Tuesday, after months of preparing and planning, we were supposed to be welcoming three Afghan war orphans at the Buffalo airport. Instead, the orphans are stranded in Kabul with no idea when they will receive the visas that will permit them to board a plane and join us for the summer 2014 program.
Things were going so smoothly this year! The children passed their interviews and were approved to receive visas. We purchased air tickets, and American host families launched off in a flurry of activity, getting their homes ready to provide a warm welcome to the weary travelers. It all came to an abrupt halt at 5 o’clock Sunday morning. We received an anxious call from our volunteer in Kabul who was standing outside the U.S. Embassy. Very upset and perplexed, he reported that when he went to pick up the documents at the appointed time, staff sent him away, saying that “visas won’t be issued today. You should have checked the website before coming here.”
After a little online searching, we learned that there was a very big reason why the promised visas were not forthcoming. The U.S. State Department database that handles visa and passport applications worldwide had CRASHED. The whole system was taken offline a few days prior to that 5 a.m. call from Kabul. Now, several days later, the Embassy’s website still opens at a page where you are told that “The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our visa system. We are operating at a significantly reduced capacity and will be until we clear the document backlog.” The problem is affecting hundreds of thousands of applications around the world.
At the moment we have no idea how long the delay will be. While two Caucasus orphans have already enjoyed two weeks in western New York, three very needy Afghan children are just hoping they won’t lose the opportunity to come here this summer. This includes Nasrat who visited us last season and is just recovering from a serious eye disease. He needs to be seen soon by his ophthalmologist here in the U.S. And the two new boys, Iqbal and Mohammed, both suffer from health problems, poor living conditions, and the loss of parents and other close family members. They desperately need a break from their difficult situations. We know they will thrive in the healing environment of Project Life.
This is one of those things that are completely out of our control. We saw news reports indicating that once embassies get back online, they will give higher priority to certain kinds of visa applications (adoptions, for example). In order to ensure that our three applications get the urgent attention they deserve, we have engaged Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in contacting staff in Kabul to push things along for us.
Delving deeper into news stories I learned that the State Department database has been plagued with problems for months. It actually crashed just after being shut down for maintenance a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t help noticing that the system that crashed was developed by the technology giant Oracle. The CEO of Oracle has been publicly criticized for receiving more that $75 million a year in a combination of salary and stock options, much more than the CEO’s of other large companies. I also noted that the federal government has plans to do much more business with the corporation in the coming years.
People of faith tend to have the attitude that things happen for a reason, even if it’s one that can’t be discerned immediately. The ancient Greek word oracle may be defined as “an authoritative or wise expression or answer,” or “a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.” There is very little we can do except wait in hopeful expectation that the visa logjam will be cleared in time for the boys to travel this summer. Right now, the reason or purpose for this frustrating delay eludes us. We feel it would require the wisdom of an oracle to explain it.
For more information about the database crash, visit:
Deborah Wilson, Deputy Director
Project Life War Orphans