When Geoff and Shannon Dunton saw a picture and read a short story about Benjamin Mukisagwe — a 2-year-old orphan from Uganda — they knew he was going to be their boy.
Geoff, 26, was adopted as a child, and Shannon, 29, had the desire to adopt since she was a teenager. So it was only natural that their first child would be adopted.
What the married couple from Mount Hermon didn’t know was the sacrifice it would take to give Benji a permanent home.
They started the adoption process through an agency and on June 1 received a phone call that they had a match.
Then came thorough background checks from the FBI and the Department of Justice, medical exams, drug tests, letters of recommendation from family members, employers and friends, tax records and bank statements, and a 30-to-40 page document prepared by a social worker about them.
All the information was submitted to the agency and forwarded to Uganda, where Benji waited in an orphanage living on a diet of porridge and rice.
The couple were told they might be able to go in December to start the adoption process in Uganda.
“We felt compelled in our hearts that one of us is supposed to go early,” Shannon Dunton said. “We talked and prayed about it and everyone (in our lives) said we could go early.”
Geoff left on Dec. 8 with a one-way ticket to Uganda — thinking that Shannon would join him six weeks later to finish the adoption process.
A lawyer in Uganda had been working on their case. But when Geoff arrived, he found out that many things had not been done.
“Over there, there’s no guarantee of anything,” he said. “They did do their best to make our lives hard.”
Because the adoption program was fairly new, Geoff had to help the orphanage where Benji was staying, located in Kampala, to gain Ugandan government approval. Otherwise, the government refused to grant a visa to the child.
Geoff visited Benji every day while trying to work through the court process and Shannon arrived on Jan. 18. The couple realized it was going to take months to finalize the adoption.
“Once I got out there, I told him, ‘There was no way I’m going to let you do this alone,’” Shannon Dunton said.
She flew back to the U.S. after two weeks, sold her car, put her job on hold and flew back to Uganda.
Over the next several months, the couple visited government officials each day trying to move the adoption forward.
“No matter what it was, it was ‘Come back tomorrow.’” Shannon Dunton said. Everywhere they went, government officials wanted “a tip” to move the process along. But the couple refused to give into the corruption and were shined on many times.
“If you don’t give them money, you’re going to be there for a while,” Geoff Dunton said.
They learned that it was a widespread epidemic, compared to the government in the United States.
“It’s cultural,” Shannon Dunton said. “Their priorities are different. A lot of people are just trying to survive.”
Finally, the couple had a court date and everything was processed smoothly. They were able to board a plane with Benji.
“We didn’t really feel safe until we got home and we were in the U.S.,” Shannon Dunton said. “We cried and let out a sigh of release as soon as the wheels were off the runway.”
Overall, the couple estimates the process cost about $35,000, including renting a place to live in Uganda and traveling costs and fees.
“The bottom line is what a blessing this child is,” Shannon Dunton said. “God blessed us with a child.”
Geoff echoed her.
“There is no price tag on this boy.”
A benefit concert will be held at 7 p.m., May 11 at New Life Center, 707 Fair Ave., in Santa Cruz, to help defray the costs of the adoption.