“A Missing Child”

Esta historia se escribe en Español = This story is also written in Spanish here.


“When we tell our story often enough, maybe better answers will come.” 

Editor’s Note:  For over twenty years Anna’s world has been marked by an unsettled void.  She lives in an abyss hanging between the threads of hope and despair awaiting news of her beloved son, Rafael Benjamin Aparicio, who has been missing and unaccounted for that long.  She is frustrated by the lack of international willingness to help her search for answers.  She needs to have closure.  Anna is not alone.  Every single day 700 Salvadorans leave their country to find better opportunities.  She has turned to an organization for support.  

Cofamide [Committee of Family Members of Migrants who have Died or Disappeared], is a group founded in 2006 which partners with Save the Children  and is part of CARECEN International in El Salvador, an NGO aligned with migration issues, dedicated to protecting the vulnerable undocumented migrants.   

It comprises mainly mothers, wives, and daughters of migrants who go missing. 

The work of Cofamide is to support these families left behind.  Their activities focus on raising awareness of the dangers of migrating, advocating for human rights issues, and offering  families technical and administrative support in investigating individual cases through transit and destination countries.  

Some of the specific activities that members involve themselves in include lobbying about migration and immigration policy, lobbying about human rights violations, as well as for a DNA data bank of the dead, and informing governments about the reality of the lives of families left behind.  They lead numerous marches to inform the general population of their efforts for things such as creating a directory of organizations that will assist families.   

We met and interviewed two members of the Cofamide group today. Although the outcome in each case is very different, it is clear from observing them interact and comfort one another that they give and receive much support.  That in and of itself must be a blessing. 

(I first admit to being confused between Comadres and Cofamide since both organizations were established to search for the missing.  Here is how it was explained to me.  In a nutshell, Comadres is the organization initiated during the civil war to search for the missing persons within the country of that era often as a result of military or police action.  Cofamide is a more contemporary counterpart group searching for missing persons/migrants who leave the country voluntarily and are unaccounted for.) 

My twenty-one year old son, Rafael, had decided to make an excursion with four other people.  They traveled by foot first into Guatemala.  Later they traveled and remained to work in Mexico for some time.  On May 16, 1990, a friend of his sent me a letter from Mexico (which included Rafael’s passport).  A summary of the letter read that Rafael had told her about me, and she felt she already knew me.  He told her that I was a good person.  She continued by saying she hoped I was in good health.  Rafael had been working there on a farm for six months. She went on to say he and a friend were leaving to go to the U.S., but an immigration official took his friend.  Rafael ran away.  She hoped by the time I received her letter that he would have reached his goal, to be in the U.S.  He told this friend that he had written me a letter earlier.  (I never received that letter.)  I never heard from Rafael.  I wrote back to the girl, but my letter was returned to me.    

This all leaves more questions than answers.  Why did he take the risk to travel to the U.S.?  Where was he going?  What were his plans?  Living from day to day not knowing his situation is like living with a sore wound that refuses to heal.   The ongoing impact on the family has been extremely painful for all of us.  

Because Rafael was living illegally in Mexico and not knowing what country he actually disappeared in complicates the situation since it takes on international significance.  I don’t know if he actually reached the U.S.; therefore, I cannot involve the U.S. authorities.  Besides, there is no individual in the U.S. to help me because my one son is handicapped; my other son is on a study visa in the U.S. but has no time or financial resources to carry out an extensive search.  My husband in the U.S. is not Rafael’s father.   

I turned to Cofamide, which is known and respected world-wide.  I have put my trust in them to support me and my family as well as to assist me in my search for the whereabouts of Rafael. When I hear of other persons who are going through the same experience of losing someone, I urge them to come to this group to be a member. 

At some of our informational parades/rallies, we carry photos of our missing loved ones in cities that are popular crossroads for migrants to travel through.  In these cities there are often houses that help immigrants.  Someone could possibly recognize or remember Rafael.  I am thinking of joining the “Step by Step” parade up to Vera Cruz to carry Rafael’s picture.  Last year there was a similar trip to Guatemala.  We also distribute informational pamphlets about Cofamide.  

In addition to the Cofamide group, I draw personal strength from my faith.  My faith in God helps me through each day.  I am Roman Catholic, and the church community has been very helpful.  It is not a traditional Catholic Church but leans more toward liberation theology.  When I pray, I ask God if Rafael is alive, to help him and to know that his mother is waiting here for him.  If he is in another situation, [she cannot bring herself to verbalize what that would be], I ask God to find his body so someone can bury him and I can know where it is to take flowers to him.  In my heart I feel he is still alive.  Praying consoles me.  Worshipping on Sunday helps me.  I tell members of my faith community that I don’t think I will die until I hear something definitive about Rafael.  I have personally seen people who have gone through this same situation who have no faith to help get them through it.  They quickly turn bitter and become hard-hearted.  That will not help them heal. 

Until I retired a year and a half ago, my job was in the government post office.  There I encountered many, many people every day who supported me also.  My husband supports me.  I am fortunate in having so many caring people surrounding me. 

For a mother it is so very difficult to not know where your child is and whether he is alive or not.  I hope to hear someday and have answered the questions that surround the mystery of his disappearance.  Our family desperately needs closure. 

The hardest part of living in El Salvador revolves around the economy and insecurities.  Conversely, the best part of living in this country is the hope that these things will change and improve. 

Unemployment resulting in needless killings as well as migration out of the country are such huge problems here.  An unfortunate result comes when the parent leaves the country and the kids are recruited to become gang members.  Gangs have been responsible for splitting up families.  The worst situation is when both parents leave the country to try to better their situation only to find that it backfires and causes the situation to be worse.  The children no longer have supervision or guidance.  They are left with grandparents who lack the energy to keep up with them or aunts and uncles the kids don’t respect.  Money may be sent back for the kids to spend in whatever way they choose causing them to feel entitled and spend it unwisely. 

As a country we need to be in a better economic situation whereby our people do not feel compelled to migrate from the country to work abroad.  Through individuals and organizations such as Cofamide stressing how difficult and dangerous it is to make that trip, especially in light of the massacres by gangs and drug cartels that are occurring, we can raise the consciousness of our people.  When we tell our story often enough, maybe better answers will come.   

Your support to share this with your readers is my most important thought.  Talk to your leaders about changing national policies on immigration.  Thank you. 

Editor’s Note:  Even after all these years, the tears continue to fill Anna’s eyes as she clenches the letter from the girl who wrote to her in 1990 hoping that Rafael had reached his goal.  

“ . . . at least we could see Justino’s body, we know he is dead. It’s worse, the anguish for a disappeared person; at least consolation comes with death. With a disappeared person they kill two birds with one stone; all of the living who revolve around the disappeared are chained to anguish. And anguish is a slow form of death.”  (One Life at a Time by Manilo Argueta, p. 178) 

In the Spanish brochure they give me I notice Cofamide offices listed in Honduras, throughout Mexico, in D.C., and all the major U.S. border cities.  E-mail:  cofamide.elsalvador@yahoo.com 


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.