Isabel and Ana's Reunion Fund
$5,005 of $4,000 goal
Isabel and Ana Williams were adopted from El Salvador in the 1980’s and grew up in the New England area, knowing very little about their past. The sisters had only faint memories of their life in El Salvador. However, Isabel clearly remembers the face of a woman, who she thought was her mother, laying dead next to her. Wanting to understand her past drove Isabel to begin searching for her birth family in 2008.
With the help of an organization called Pro-Busqueda, Isabel and Ana were able to locate their birth mother, Ester, who is alive and living in rural El Salvador. The sisters learned that they had been torn from their birth family during a massacre in 1980 which took the lives of their grandparents. They had been forcibly separated from their family by the Salvadoran military forces who placed them in an orphanage to be put up for adoption. Their birth mother, who survived the attack, tried to get her daughters back but was prevented from doing so and the sisters were adopted to the US.
Since 2010 when they learned that their birth mother was still alive, Isabel and Ana have been trying to meet Ester in person. Due to a debilitating illness, Isabel is not able to travel and Ana does not want to have the reunion without her sister by her side. Their only option was to bring their birth mother to the U.S. which required required years of working with the US government to secure a travel visa for Ester. In December 2014, Ester’s visa was approved. After a long journey, a reunion is going to happen this year - Isabel, Ana and their mother will finally get to see each other for the first time in 35 years.
The Mama Chila Foundation is collecting funds to help Isabel and Ana offset some of the cost of bringing their birth mother to the US. This includes airfare and hiring a translator for the duration of Ester’s visit. Any funds raised above and beyond our goal of $4,000 will go to helping others with stories like Isabel and Ana.
To learn more about how Isabel and Ana were separated from their mother, watch the video below (produced by Unfinished Sentences, a project of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights.
About the Mama Chila Foundation
The Mama Chila Foundation is dedicated to providing support to individuals who, as children, were separated from their biological families during armed conflicts as they navigate the experience of rebuilding relationships with their families. It was established by Nelson/Roberto who was forcibly separated from his family during the Salvadoran civil war.
To learn more about our organization please check out our website at http://mamachila.foundation/
It’s been over a week since I drove our mother to Massachusettes and exactly a week since Robert Mc Andrews called me on Saturday night to inform me that they’d arrived safely in El Salvador. Phew! When they got back to our mother, Ester’s home, they arrived to a lovely dinner that our brother and family cooked to welcome back their “mamita.” It made me smile to know that she is so loved and cherished. Because that is what you do for family you love them and you take care of them. For two weeks, I had that opportunity again. My sister and I had our mother and time. All those long ago moments, those fearful memories now had new moments and wonderful memories to buffer and add some light. We now had mornings together when we made coffee and breakfast together. There were dinners of homemade tortillas and chicken soup. Some of our moments were full of laughter such as when my mother and I tried to hang up laundry ( without Yolaina helping us to communicate) outside at my inlaws and couldn’t quite reach the line. Or when our mother (Ester) was describing Isabel and I as little girls playing with our brother Antonio. Or noticing how my feet and my daughters feet looked like my mothers! And some were quite tragic such as the separation at the massacre and our mother’s deep sense of loss. But what was clear throughout our time together was the sheer volume of courage that our mother had in continuing to live and mother her youngest child; to establish a support system that would help her after the loss of both Isabel and I and the loss of her husband. To have faith that she’d see her daughters again.
This is a new beginning for our whole family. Isabel and I not only have our mother and brother in El Salvador but we also have extended family in New York and California. My daughter now has three grandmothers how awesome is that! During the first week, my daughter tried to speak to our mother in spanish by stating (with pride) “ana patana!” She and her mamita laughed every time. My daughter will grow up knowing she has a mamita, an uncle Antonio and seven cousins in El Salvador. Though she won’t remember all of the moments, she’ll know that she is loved by more people.
Isabel and I wouldn’t have been able to have these moments without the help and support of our friends, our family and others who felt strongly about this reunion. Through Isabel, I met and now have a connection with many wonderful people: Nelson de Witt, Katherine Pyle, Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Dean Stevens and Robert McAndrews. Thank you so much for your expertise, passion, dedication and empathy. We also live in an amazing community. Brattleboro is small but it can make a difference and it made such an impact on this journey. I had no idea and it literally brought tears to my eyes when I realized how giving and supportive our community is and was! Thank you to the Brattleboro Coop and to all of the amazing people who helped Isabel and I communicate with our mother. And thanks mom (JoAnn), Kelsey and Isabel for taking the first step together.
Once again thank you all for having made this beautiful and possible. Be well and take care.
Thank you, everyone, for all of your well wishes, your prayers, support, and contributions in various ways and for sharing in our happiness throughout this reunion, by reading about our family story in the local newspaper, following our updates on Facebook or donating your time and skills while we navigated the language difference and for surrounding our family with love and compassion from near and far. Although our very first reunion moment, despite our best laid plans, happened by the side of a dirt, country road, this reunion was made safe and comfortable by the generosity of family members and friends who donated their homes for our use so we would have enough space to relax and just focus on spending time together.
A special thank you to Kathryn Smith Pyle, whose years of dedication in advocating for my family and I, helped us to secure the visa that ultimately brought my mother to the U.S. and into my arms. Thank you to my friend Nelson de Witt, a fellow reunited Salvadoran adoptee, for his beautiful photography skills as he recorded our very first reunion moments and for stepping into many roles throughout this reunion. And, thank you to the Ward/de Witt family for breaking bread with us for our first welcoming meal and giving us a safe place to come in from the storm.
Thank you to the Brattleboro Food Co-op for helping us to share our story on their website and Facebook page, which brought our message of hope to thousands of the greater cooperative community. With their help, we connected with translators from our local area who gave us the ability to connect with our mother, share stories and reconstruct the past in order to create a future of love and connection.
We held a benefit concert at the Hooker Dunham Theatre on July 2nd which was well attended and helped us to cover reunion costs and raise awareness about the Salvadoran human rights organization, Asociacion Pro-Busqueda. Central America traveler and musician Dean Stevens, a friend of mine who brought me to El Salvador for my one and only trip there in 2008, donated his time, energy and gifted musicianship, with the help of some of his equally musically gifted friends, to create a performance that surrounded everyone in attendance with peace and joy and inspired compassion, love and recognition of the courage and strength of family and community.
My mother Ester returned to her home in El Salvador a few days ago and we miss her already. But, now we have many new wonderful stories to remember and a connection that has been reignited and will live on forever. This reunion brought together family, friends and community members, which spread the love much further than I could every have imagined. Thank you to everyone who helped make this dream happen. Thank you to all of the unsung heroes. I hope our story will continue to move and inspire you.
-- Isabel Williams
My name is Nelson de Witt and I am a friend of Isabel and Ana. Over the past two months I have been helping them put together and manage this campaign. Like them, I am a Salvadoran adoptee, and in 1997 I had a reunion with my birth family. That is why I jumped at the chance to help Isabel and Ana with their reunion. I wanted to write this update to share some of the wonderful moments that have come out of Isabel and Ana’s reunion.
Before I get into the heart of the update I wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for contributing to this campaign. As someone who reunited with their birth family, I know how special and important this moment is. I also wanted to apologize for not providing more of these updates. It’s been a crazy two months and I haven’t had a lot of time to write.
I’m happy to report that, thanks to all of you lovely people, not only did we hit our goal of $4000, but we ended up raising just over $5000! I would like to publicly thank the wonderful people at GoFund.me, who generously contributed $1000 to this campaign. We now have enough money to cover all of the reunion expenses and I have ended the campaign. If there is anything left over it will go to the Mama Chila Foundation and help another Salvadoran family reunite.
On June 28th I picked up Ester, Isabel and Ana’s mother, and drove her up to Gilsum, New Hampshire to be reunited with her daughters. We arrived in Gilsum around 12:45pm and Ester embraced her daughters for the first time in 35 years. It was a beautiful moment and I have attached several pictures so you can see for yourself.
Just before we arrived in Gilsum a storm took out power at the house where we were planning on holding the reunion. Fortunately we were able to find an alternative space and continued with the day. With her daughter’s by her side, Ester had a Skype call with her youngest child Jesus Antonio, who was still in El Salvador with his six children. The whole family talked for over an hour, forgetting to eat lunch. Finally around 4pm we sat down for a big meal, before heading our separate ways. It was truly an amazing day.
Then last Thursday July 2nd, Isabel and Ana organized a benefit concert for Pro-busquedá, the organization that connected them to their birth mother. It was held in Brattleboro Vermont and it was an emotional night with lots of food, singing, and crying. I was able to briefly chat with Isabel and Ana about how the reunion was going. They said they were having a wonderful time and were enjoying all the little moments with their birth mother, like watching fireflies light up the night sky on the balcony of Ana’s apartment.
In a few days Ester will have to return to El Salvador and say goodbye to Isabel and Ana. Even though this will be hard on everyone, I know this family will never forget their week together and what you helped make possible. I can only hope they have another chance to be together sometime soon.
One final note about your donation. Due to the complexities of launching this campaign and setting up the Mama Chila Foundation, I was not able to complete the paper work for 501(c)3 status in time for the reunion. Please do not worry, this does not effect Isabel and Ana’s reunion in any way. All it means is that you will not be able to take your donation as a tax deduction. If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for contributing to this campaign. I know it means a lot to Isabel, Ana, and Ester.
Nelson de Witt