Finding Family Against All Odds

Local church helps to reunite mother and daughter

Over the past 2 year, ISS-USA has been working with a cross border family to reunite a mother living in Guatemala with her daughter who was adopted by a family in the Netherlands. Just after the case was received, COVID hit, and an enormous amount of emotional and practical uncertainty cast a long shadow over the likelihood of the daughter finding her first mother.  Read more to find out if ISS was able to reunite the first mother in Guatemala with her daughter in the Netherlands during a global pandemic.

Olivia Barrios (Program Coordinator at ISS-USA) shares her experiences:

The names in the following story have been altered to protect the identity of those involved.

How did the search go during COVID?

This search, referred by ISS Netherlands, was received just a couple of weeks before Covid-19 pummeled us all into uncertainty and lockdowns. I informed our partner in Guatemala and she started mapping the area where the first mother was born and then later worked. It took some time to identify the precise community because it is a rural community located in the northwestern hills of Guatemala. Our Guatemalan partner was able to learn that the adoption agency was closed years ago and the name of the attorney was on a list of those attorneys who had lost their licenses. The social worker then requested approval to look at the national registry entity to obtain first mother’s information. Unfortunately, the mother had not updated her identification documents and our partner was not able to obtain a physical address for her. (three strikes).  Most of this work was done by phone calls and via the internet.

Our partner decided to reach out to the Archdiocese in the area, by phone. After numerous attempts to get through, the priest was able to help her and provided the phone number for the priest in a neighboring city. Our partner reached out a couple of times and finally she was able to talk to the priest and stated that she searching for a Ms. Garcia to talk about a relative. The priest agreed to help in the search and said that he would try his best in locating Ms. Garcia and/or another family member. Many months passed and finally the priest contacted our partner informing her that a community leader was able to find Ms. Garcia and put her in contact with our partner who established communication with Ms. Garcia and informed her the reasons that she was looking for her.

The first mother was surprised that her daughter was looking for her. She thought that she would never hear from her. She cried and said “I love my daughter but, I did not have the economic resources to take care of her and I had to give her in adoption.” She stated that there was not a single day that she did not think about her and there were times that she desperately cried and was not able to explain to her family, that did not know of this adoption. She decided to take some time to think about it before making any decisions.

More time passed and, our partner did not hear back from Ms. Santos. Our partner tried several times to contact her but her phone number was no longer in service. She reached back to the priest and who was able to establish contact with a relative, Ms. Garcia’s sister. She told the priest that Ms. Garcia told her about her daughter and she was so happy to hear that her daughter is doing well; however, she was worried because she never told her family that she gave her first child in adoption. After communicating with our partner, Ms. Garcia was assured that the only thing that we were seeking was a virtual meeting between herself and her daughter. She was reassured that her privacy would be respected in all other matters.

How did Ms. Garcia feel about connecting?

Ms. Garcia was happy to know that her child was healthy and doing well but she was worried that her daughter might reject her or judge her for giving her in adoption. Ms. Jansen, Ms. Garcia’s daughter, wrote a letter to her first mother and in it she expressed that she loved her and did not judge her. She has kept her mother’s photograph that was provided with the adoption documents and she stated that she “loves her.” I participated, together with our partner in providing some emotional support to Ms. Garcia. Sometimes Ms. Garcia would call while working in the fields and send pictures to share with her daughter.

What were your impressions at the meeting? 

All of us were happy that finally, Ms. Jansen’s dream came true. When Ms. Garcia joined the call, they were both happy and emotional. Ms. Garcia asked for forgiveness many times and said that she never stopped loving her but thought that giving her in adoption would provide a better future.

What pieces of advice or information would you share with any of our new staff or interns who were to participate in a similar case?

Tracing cases can take a long time to finally locate the family. We need to be patient and think out of the box. We also need to support our partners while they reach out to other community members to assist in the tracing. Our partner reaching out to the church ended up being the only way to find Ms. Garcia, when all other methods failed. Having a good network helps and we also need to careful that we don’t breach someone’s privacy in our attempts to find them.


Thanks to the continuous work of our team in Guatemala, we were all able to share in the joy and success of connecting this cross-border family for the first time. “The mother and daughter continue their communication and plan to meet in the near future!