In El Salvador March 29th is The Day of the Disappeared Children. During the county’s 13 year civil war, 1980 to 1993, hundreds of children were forcibly separated from their families. It has been nearly 30 years since the end of the war and many families are still wondering where their loved ones are. In honor of this important day I want to share the story of Tom Hurd who is currently tying to have a reunion with his birth mother, 26 years after they were separated.
Tom is a father of four who works in Human Resource Command for the Army. He was adopted in 1988 at the age of 7 to a family in New Jersey. Growing up Tom believed that his adoption had been completely legitimate, and that his mother had given him up so he could have a better life.
Left, Tom as a boy in El Salvador. Right, Tom as an adult.
Two years ago Tom, with the help of his wife, started searching for his birth family in El Salvador. In December Tom was notified that his birth family had been located and that his adoption was not legal after all. He learned that a lawyer in El Salvador had tricked his birth mother into placing him into an orphanage and he had been adopted without her consent.
On February 20th, 2016 Tom and his birth mother had a Skype call and were able to see each other for the first time in 26 years. It was an emotional and tearful reunion. They are now working on organizing an in person reunion for this summer, before Tom is deployed overseas.
Helping other Salvadoran adoptees reunite with their birth families is something that is very close to my heart. Last year I created the Mama Chila Foundation in order to help my friends Isabel and Ana reunite with their birth family. So when Tom reached out to me for advise about running a similar campaign I jumped at the chance to help.
Let’s help Tom reunite
Tom is currently running a GoFund.me campaign in order to help cover the cost of flying his birth mother and brother to the United States for a month long visit. The funds will not only pay for plane tickets, but also the cost of a visa, legal help, and compensate his mother for the month she has to take off work.
He is off to a great start but could use some more help. It would be amazing if we could help him get half way to his goal of $8,000. The Mama Chila Foundation has donated $400 to his reunion and I hope you consider donating as well.
If you would like to learn more about Tom and his story, we just released our latest podcast which is an interview with Tom. He shares his story and what this reunion means to him.
Nelson/Roberto: Tell us a little about your life and adoptee
Tom Hurd: I was adopted in July of 1988 by a family in New Jersey. I was almost 7 the time. From my understanding it was an adoption out of necessity. El Salvador was going trough a civil war and my birth mother couldn’t take care of us. From what we could tell it was a pretty standard adoption.
NR: When you were growing up did you every think about going back to El Salvador and looking for your birth family?
TH: Yea my adoptive mother was really encouraging about that. She told me that if I ever wanted to do that she would help. But as an adult I did think about it too much. When I found out that El Salvador had an earthquake I was scared to ask for answers or to look. I didn’t know what would turn up, if anything.
NR: When did you finally start searching for your birth family?
TH: Well I never actually, did it was my wife who started. She thought it was important for our children because we didn’t have any of my family medical history. So, she was very adamant that we start some kind of search. We started February 2014 and it took us two years to find them.
NR: Did you find the process of searching difficult? Two years can be a long time to wait.
TH: Honestly I would forget. Months would go by and we wouldn’t hear anything. My wife did write them asking for updates. We did get some but there were also some interruptions, like when the offices at Pro-Búsqueda were raided. There was also a backlog of DNA testing.
And having the carrier that I do, as an active duty soldier in the army, my days are long and filled with stuff that keeps you busy. So it didn’t feel like two year. It was kind of amazing when we looked back that it had taken that long, but it didn’t feel like it.
NR: I remember that when I was waiting to reunte with birth family it was a stressful time. Not because we thought something bad was going to happen, but because we were all anxious to meet them. I’m wondering if you felt any of that?
TH: You kind of described what I was feeling but didn’t know it. I had some trouble sleeping the night before we had our first Skype call because I started to get really nervous. I mean what’s the proper emotion after not seeing your birth mother in 27 years? I didn’t want to disappoint her. I just didn’t know what to feel. But after it all settled down it was a peaceful calming feeling.
NR: I’ve seen parts of the video from that first Skype call. You could see it meant a lot to your mother, I’m wondering what it meant to you.
TH: I typically don’t get emotional but that was very emotional to see her get upset. I couldn’t understand what she was saying but you can see emotions. It was tough but this whole thing was harder for her then it was for me.
The story that I’ve gotten is that my birth mother was cleaning houses to make ends meat, and the wife a lawyer tried to convince her to put us in an orphanage. My birth mother asked why she would put us in an orphanage if she didn’t want to put us up for adoption. The lawyers wife explained that we wouldn’t be, we would just live there and my birth mother could come visit as much as she liked. I actually have some memories of her coming to visit but then it became more difficult for her to visit and that’s when we were adopted.
Apparently this lawyer did this to many other family. There was some calculated deception because they took advantage of a women who couldn’t read or write and leading her to believe that she was doing something good for her children.
NR: Did that bother you at all?
TH: Yea, mostly because of what my went through and must have felt. I have four children of my own and I would go to the ends of the earth, if something like that would happen. I can’t imagine being in a position like that. She’s poor, uneducated, and doesn’t have any of the means to get any real results. She said she went to the police but the police couldn’t do anything.
NR: I find that one of the more difficult aspects about being adopted from El Salvador is how you were separated from your birth family. That is often more difficult then the separation or reunion.
TH: Right, and there is just a lot of hurt you can’t take back. There is a lot of healing that has got to happen.
NR: So you’ve done a Skype call, what’s next for your family?
TH: I’ve always a had a concern with going to El Salvador because it’s not completely safe. So we are working towards bringing my birth mother and bother here, because it’s not just about me. I want her to meet her grand kids. I want her to meet my wife. If I go to El Salvador it satisfies my need to go to see my mother face to face again but it doesn’t on the family level.
NR: And you are currently running a GoFund.me campaign for the reunion?
TH: Yea we are at $2,200 and we think it will continue to do well… We are hoping for a reunion this summer. I’m actually supposed to be deploying in January. So if it doesn’t happen soon then I will be out of the country for a year.
NR: So there a lot of moving parts. Well we wish you the best. I know, having been through it, that it is one thing to see pictures, but it is completely different to meet in person. What’s the link where people can donate?
NR: And do you have any advise for people who might be going through their own search?
TH: I guess just be prepared for everything. When you start this it’s obviously with the intentions of getting the best results, but you don’t necessarily know what you are going to find out. Take the good with the bad and know it’s a lot of emotions.
NR: Thank you tom for coming on and sharing your story. We will let everyone know what happens with your reunion.
Let’s help Tom reunite with his birth mother was originally published in Inside the Journey on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.