The narrative of international adoption is dominated by adoption profiteers: Adoption agencies or adoptive parents. Giving an orphaned child a loving home in a wealthy nation, making a childless couple’s dream come true.
The story of adoption does not start with a happy adoptive family. But with a child born its mother. #NoMotherNoChild explores where adoptions begin and features the most unheard voices of the adoption experiences: the first mothers.
This project shows photographs of Colombian mothers whose children were adopted internationally.
For most Colombian adoptees it is impossible to find their mothers. As a result they are unable to gain information about where they are from and why they entered the adoption system. #NoMotherNoChild allows the silenced Colombian mothers to speak up and tell their stories after being marginalised for so long.
After years of being silenced and marginalized they speake up and tell their stories.
Margarita is one of the many mothers who lost their children to adoption after the tragedy of Armero.
It was the 13th of November 1985. The tragedy was biblical. The sky was filled with black clouds; fire and stones fell from the sky. They buried all Armero and its people. Only 3,000 people survived but 25.000 perished during this natural disaster.
She was outside town running errands with one of her children. In the news she saw the volcano explosion had buried Armero. She knew her husband and three of her children were caught up in the middle of this natural disaster.
„On the day of the volcanic eruption, I was running errands with my youngest child in a city close by. It was 13 November 1985. The catastrophe was of a biblical proportion. The sky was full of black clouds, fire and stones fell from the sky. Armero was buried and with it, its people. Many disappeared – died. Some who didn’t die went mad from the trauma they experienced. Many lost their memories and no longer knew who they were. It was chaos, people were rushing and screaming. My husband survived but three of our children disappeared. We didn’t believe they were buried under the rubble or had died.
We found out many children were taken to the surrounding orphanages. We searched all of them. In Ibagué we found Alfonso. We saw him playing in the courtyard of a children’s home. We weren’t allowed in and were told the boy we pointed to was called Fernando. We had lost everything to prove he was our son. The director didn’t permit a meeting. My husband tried to explain to her that Alfonso, who was ten years old at the time, would know who his parents were and would recognize us – that he would remember us as soon as he saw us but they wouldn’t listen and sent us away. Our efforts were worthless, she wouldn’t give us a chance. When we went to try again a different time, they told us he was adopted internationally. From a neighbor we heard that also Carlos and Regina were still alive. She had seen them in a report about the disaster on television but we never found out where they were taken. The sadness gives me a migraine.
I hope that my children are in a good family and live happily, but we are also their family and we fought for them. We are poor but we cultivate our own land, we go fishing, keep chickens and live together with four generations of our family. We support each other“
“We are fighting for our children and against the ongoing injustice of forced adoption.“
Sandra Carolina is one of the mothers who became a victim of the forced adoption practice and corruption. She founded a group called „Madres del Silencio“. This organisation helps mothers keep their children while offering free legal support for mothers in cases of forced adoption.
Children homes are businesses that are a part of our economic system. Every child inside the system will be funded by the government and also used to bring in donations. So the more children the orphanage can take into care, the more money they receive to cover housing, food, education and salaries. For every child who gets adopted at least one new one needs to enter so the budget can grow or be kept stable. Some managers of children homes put extra efforts into making sure the balance offers a comfortable reward.
„I spent 17 deadly years looking for my children. My children were illegally adopted. I never gave them up for adoption. I will never stop looking for them. I love them with my whole being and I want them to meet their brothers and sisters. I received a letter from the youth welfare office after they snatched my children from our home. I was working as a prostitute at the time. That was reason enough to take my children from me. The letter said the circumstances of my home were not appropriate but nobody from this institute ever came to my home to investigate the circumstances. There was no hearing. Every month I received a letter demanding a payment of 150,000 pesos for my children. I always raised the money, no matter how. The administrator of the children’s home – Dora Luz Escobar – never looked me in the face. She didn’t sign the letters I received from the office because she wasn’t there. Strangely though, she always signed the bills I got. They were making money by putting children in the home, it was a business. My baby got sick and nobody told me my son was in hospital and almost died. The only message I received about the condition of my children was: ’Congratulations, your children have been adopted internationally‘.
I am not the only one. At a Plan Angel meeting, I met a woman whose children were also stolen by the ICBF. Señora Escobar had also signed her documents. The whole country is full of women with stories like ours. I say we must break the silence like the women from the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina did! I am an actress now. I travel all over the country. I have a voice and with this voice I founded a group called Madres del Silencio, in Bogotá. We are fighting for our children and against the ongoing injustice of forced adoption.“
of Plan Angel
Plan Angel uses a multi-disciplinary approach to empower families and help them find their biological children. One of their most important tools in helping families is DNA testing.
“I don’t know why they took them to the orphanage.“
Adriana Patricia needed to work full-time, So she took her children to what she believed were private nurseries
„When I met my first husband I was very young, just 14 years old. We had five children together. He was involved in drug dealing and abused me. I lost my first son in 1977. I found work in a village near Medellin so I gave him to a couple. They wanted to take care of him until I could pick him up the next morning after work. The couple disappeared overnight and stole my son. It was only last year that we found him. There I stood, in front of my 40-year-old son. He had spent his whole life with another family. My two other children I lost, were sent to an orphanage by their private foster mother. After my husband was sent to prison, I had to bring up four children on my own. I took a full-time job to compensate for the loss of support. I gave two of my children to my parents-in-law. I left the other two with a private foster mother; after reading the local newspaper I discovered she had taken my children to the child welfare office and they took them to the orphanage . I saw a photo of them.“
„When I went to Bienestar Familiar La América to pick up my children, they asked me to prove that the children were mine. I said : ’Get my children. They will recognize me. I am their mother. Just let me see them.‘ But the director refused my request. Later I found out my children had been adopted and sent abroad without my signature or consent. I don’t know why the foster mother gave my children to the ICBF Maybe she was paid, or someone advised her to? I could not confront her about it, my hatred is too big. I can’t face her.“
“Can you tell me why he isn’t looking for me after all these years?“
Ana Milena’s family made a false case in Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar and gave away her child. When she pleaded to get back her son from the Institution to right the wrongs done to her and him, she was told by the director, that her son was better off without her as a mother in good American family. No one was ever held accountable.
„When I was 14 I lived on my own. I was a saleswoman and drove from city to city. At the age of 19, after giving birth to my second son, I decided to leave my violent husband. My aunt supported me and took me and my baby in, but she didn’t want my two-year-old son in the house. I was forced to leave him with my friend Itagüi. I was young and liked to go out those days. I met a mafiosi with whom I fell in love. It was terribly romantic until my girlfriend and I witnessed a murder one evening when we were dancing on the street and walking through the neighbourhood. We had to leave the city immediately. We couldn’t go back home. We only had the clothes we were wearing. For three months we hid in Barranquilla. My family had no phone so I couldn’t tell them where I was. When I returned, I first visited my friend and my eldest son. I had saved some money and paid her the expenses. Then I went back to my family. I was happy to be home again and finally wanted to see my baby. But my aunt had given him to a home. She had claimed not to know his mother. I had just been an unknown washerwoman and who had abandoned her son. They even gave him a false name: Mauricio. We went together to the youth welfare office Bienestar Familiar la América to get my Cristian back and make everything right again, but it was too late. Apparently they searched for Mauricio’s mother with a newspaper announcement and afterwards released him for adoption. I told the director about the lies, and she found out about my contacts to the mafia. My son had been given up for adoption under false pretences, but the only thing this director continued telling me was: „your son is now in an American family and better off there than with a mother like you“.
Whether a prostitute or a thief, a child belongs to its mother! I will always be his mother. I know he has a new family now, a new name and that I lost the right to be his mother. I don’t want to intervene. I just want to tell him my story. Can you tell me why he isn’t looking for me after all those years?“
After placing two of her children for adoption, she only wanted to die. It was an impossible thing to do. And she did it in the hope of securing a better life for her children. It was a sacrifice that almost cost her her life.
“My daughter Yasmina was devine, beautiful, and innocent. She was with me for seven years. My son Daniel, I called him carry-me-carry-me and food-food. Nothing made him happier than when he was fed. But I hardly had anything. It was terribly difficult. For as little as milk and panela for my children I had to do some favors for men. My family didn’t recognise my children as theirs. They hardly saw me as a daughter and abused me. It was bad enough that I lived in the house with them. My middle child Bryan lived with his paternal grandmother. I didn’t get to see him. But I didn’t have to worry about him. Everyone pushed me to give up my children. The decision that I couldn’t go on any further was made when my mother – as so often – threw me out onto the street. I was desperate and cried: „God, what should I do?” A child should have a right to father and mother, to a home and education. A family in which they can learn discipline and become successful. I did the most terrible thing, something no woman does without being forced to. Look at my nephews and nieces, all without work, they take dangerous drugs. They never went to school. If my children had stayed here, they would’ve ended up like that. How could I let that happen? Not long ago I found my children on Facebook. The youth welfare office had revealed to me that they were adopted by a diplomat family. My son told me that he didn’t want any contact and blocked me. His sister looked beautiful in the pictures wearing her graduation dress.
After giving them away, I thought, ‘God let me die‘, but he wouldn’t. My current husband had to shower and feed me. I had given up on living. But the love for Jesus saved me. I bought a house for my children. So that they would know that although I suffered all this time, I continued to fight for them. So that they have something here when they come back.“
“Plan Angel gave me hope for the first time that I might see him again before I die.“
Maria Leonisa’s son got lost at a train station when he was 8 years old. Even 57 years later, she never learned what happened to him.
“God gave me nine children, two of them daughters. Two of my sons were murdered in the drug war. But I lost Luís much earlier. All my children were still small and half of them were not even born. I drove with them to the city centre of Medellín. At that time I had four children. My youngest was just two months old, the oldest twelve. I had to run errands. Luís distanced himself from us. He liked taking strolls on his own because he kept coins to buy sweets from the street vendors at the train station. Everyone around us went about their usual business. Luís didn’t come back from his stroll. At the time he was eight years old. He knew my name, he knew where we lived. I don’t understand why he didn’t find his way home, why nobody brought him home. We went straight to the police station. But the investigation didn’t bring any findings. I’m sure he was stolen and sold. I’ve been waiting 55 years for him to come back. A few months ago, I found out about the DNA program of an organisation called Plan Angel and told them about my son. They knew a Hector José with my name from Medellín who remembered getting lost at a train station. He was adopted to Holland and looking for his family. The organisation did a DNA test with me to see if he could be my Luís. I haven’t received the results yet.
I’ve lived so long with the loss of my son, more than half of my life. Plan Angel gave me hope for the first time that I might see him again before I die.“
Results of DNA-Testing
Maria Leonisas DNA test came back as no match with that Luís, who got in contact wit Plan Angel. Everyone involved in this case, hopes that her Luís went into adoption and was not a victim of other crimes and that he is still alive. With working with a world wide database and not a one on one DNA test, there is a chance that the right Luís will get t o know about Plan Angel and the Family Finder of Family Tree DNA and decide to do the test. In that case, Maria Leonisa will get a direct match with her son.
Support this project
There are are many ways you can support me collecting and spreading the testimonies of Colombian first mothers. One way is donating to help me keep this production independent from political and economical interests.
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I was the orphan
The story of adoption does not start with an orphaned child, but with a child born to it‘s mother. After years of being silenced and marginalized, our Colombian mothers speak up and tell their own stories. And maybe we see that we adoptees were not abandoned at all.