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Signed and Stamped

January 22, 2014

WAEC Certificate

On January 15 we submitted the last of the scholarship applications.  My count was 16 and I know Alex, my partner in dreams, did twice that.  We both heaved a sigh of relief and did a half-hearted victory dance before going to take a long rest.

Done!  …or so we thought.

Just a few days after the final emails Alex was contacted by the only American school we applied to saying that his children’s 9th grade transcripts and WAEC results had been rejected.  If he didn’t correct the situation by the end of the month their applications wouldn’t be read.

The end of the month?  When I traveled home in December I carried and mailed carefully signed and stamped documents for all the students.  And now they were rejected?  To mail even a few sheets of paper out of Liberia takes a trip to the capital and around $100USD at DHL.

I began checking my email twice an hour, three times an hour, hoping for an update on my own four applications.  But nothing.  Then I logged into their online accounts and saw that one was rejected and three of the applications had been passed from “pending” to “under review.”  I threw my arms in the air and literally shed tears at my desk.  I knew their applications were good and I knew that even if they were not ultimately selected they would at least be seriously considered.

So I emailed the office to ask about the one that had been rejected.  He wrote back, basically, “Whoa, sorry.  Just because the system says they are being reviewed doesn’t mean they won’t be rejected later.  It sounds like what you sent was completely unacceptable for all applicants.  So, sorry, but try again.”

What had I sent?  They needed 12th grade WAEC scores for all my students so I printed out their online result and enclosed information explaining they didn’t have certificates but that the scores could be validated online using scratch card codes I enclosed.  (I even stapled an actual scratch card to the letter so they would see it was a real thing.)  This is the gold standard for WAEC results and actually more than I usually send for an application.

“Absolutely no online result will ever be accepted.”

Can I have the WAEC office stamp and validate the online result?  No.

So Tuesday Alex went to the WAEC head office in Monrovia and asked them to validate his students’ 9th grade certificates and explain, somehow, why my 12th graders didn’t have certificates.  After some prodding the man admitted that the 2012 certificates hadn’t been printed yet.  No problem.  Could he write a letter explaining that?

“Now that will cost money.”

This is the sixth university I’ve helped students apply for.  Granted, it is the first one in the United States, but I have been shocked at how, well, deep their lack of understanding runs.

The scholarship is targeted at poor African students.  Beautiful.  I wish there were more.  But, the entire application has to be completed online and original documents have to be snail mailed to the admissions office.  The only time I’ve ever had to take something to DHL was for a visa application after the student was admitted.   Most applications are filled out by hand, scanned, and emailed (itself a feat in Liberia.)

I was already planning to visit the States over the holidays, though, so we rolled our eyes, but did it.  My documents trickled in to the Cuttington main gate, carried by travelling students and passing bush taxis.  It worked and I couldn’t believe it!  We got everything and I mailed it in a big envelope before I came back to Liberia a few weeks ago.

Not good enough.

The thing these admissions people don’t get is that a stamp and a signature make nothing more official here.  I can go into Gbarnga right now and have someone make me a stamp that says “WAEC Liberia” or any ridiculous thing I want.  I can pay anyone who happens to have a stamp to stamp any piece of paper I want.  (Someone in Monrovia was actually busted last year for forging Ma Ellen’s presidential signature on things—now that takes balls!)  The funny thing is the first documents we sent were actually signed and stamped by the correct people… it just wasn’t real enough for some reason.

“We’re trying to do this the right way,” Alex wrote back to them in feigned calm.  “We’re trying to show that you can do the right thing and still be successful.”

But why is that so hard?  Why is honesty not always the best option?  Why can’t they believe the people who are here instead of a company that collects data on international education and hasn’t been to Liberia recently, if ever?  We are real people really living in Liberia.

I dream of a world where we can find a way to believe each other and find a way to do the right thing even when it takes a bit of faith.

Wish us luck.  The revised documents should arrive next week and, heart-breakingly, the guy helping us always signs off his emails, “Hope this works out.  Your students sound like exactly what we’re looking for.”

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.

-Babe Ruth

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. aunt patty permalink
    January 22, 2014 8:27 pm

    Oh Becky! all I could hear in my head was the Who’s down in Whoville crying “we are here! we are here! we are here!”

    i’ll pray for you all

    aunt patty

  2. blondie permalink
    January 22, 2014 8:36 pm

    Good luck to you and your students Bekka! I had wondered how things were going.

  3. January 23, 2014 9:03 am

    Thanks, ladies. Whatever happens at least we’ll know it wasn’t for lack of effort. Even when the road doesn’t reach the destination you’re still paving the way…

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