El Salvador

Project Helps Reunite Salvadoran Families Separated By Civil War

"We know that children were given up for adoption to people in many countries”

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The civil war in El Salvador not only claimed the lives of thousands of people but also tragically saw hundreds, if not thousands, of children be separated from their families.

Between 1980 and 1992, El Salvador went through a bloody war in which many children were kidnapped and many parents were forced to give their kids up for adoption. But one California doctor, alongside the organization Pro-Búsqueda, has dedicated part of her life to reuniting these families.

“They were forcibly separated. Some babies were ripped from their mothers’ arms, and others were lost due to the circumstances of the war,” Dr. Elizabeth Barnert said.

Reuniting Families

In 2005, Barnert went to El Salvador an began using DNA technology to create a database that eventually led to reunifications of families that had been separated.

One of the beneficiaries of the project was Angela Fillingim, a mother and California university professor who was able to track down her biological family.


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“I got the news that they had found my biological mother and that I have a brother,” Fillingim said.

Though her mother died shortly after they met, she was able to tell Fillingim about her adoption and the hell she and other families went through during the war.

“She didn’t want to do that,” Fillingim said. “She felt threatened and needed to go through with the adoption.”

Cases Solved

The project has been abled to connect hundreds of Salvadoran children with their roots.

“They’ve solved 463 cases,” Barnert said. “But we think there are many more, maybe thousands. We know that children were given up for adoption to people in many countries.”

In the U.S. alone, more than 2,000 adoption visas for Salvadoran children were granted during the war.

Stories Captured in a Book

The story of how Fillingim traced her roots, as well as the accounts of 50 people, were compiled in a book titled “Reunion." The book, authored by Barnert, chronicles the stories of pain and hope and serves as a source of inspiration for people to discover that chapter of their lives.

“There are many. There are children in the United States, Europe, across the whole world, who have a right to know their story,” Fillingim said.

The money raised from book sales will be used to reunite more families through the Pro-Búsqueda organization in El Salvador.

For more information about the project, people can contact  Pro-Búsqueda El Salvador via email at info@probusqueda.org.sv or via phone by dialing 503-223-51039. People can also contact the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center at hrc@berkeley.edu and Barnert at lizziebarnert@gmail.com.

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