Marcia Engel: "So much trouble to find my own parents . For a right that every child - the right to contact his parents . I figured the spot : this has to change , I 'm going to help people. And this goes beyond the search for relatives. I want to make people aware of their rights and opportunities.”

Crossing borders to find your family, for free

When international adoptee Marcia Engel set out to find her biological parents, she found that the system wasn’t geared to helping her – and that intermediary bodies were even exploiting her during her quest to find her family.

By Natasha Gunn

Her response was to create a network to give families the opportunity to reunite without having to resort to paying for help.

“I wanted to have this free registration system,” says Marcia. “It is important that adoptees and their families have the option to search for one another. Currently families and adoptees have little information and they always experience ‘bumps’ in the road, dead ends.”

Marcia’s newly launched Adoption Angels Network is part of her initiative, Plan Angel, which she created after following a long and torturous path to find her biological parents.

“I found out that I was adopted when I was 11: my mother told me that I didn’t come out her stomach. She told me that there wasn’t any information on my background and that even if I wanted to look for it, it wasn’t possible.

Marcia learned that she was brought to an orphanage in Columbia at 12 months. They didn’t know much about her, not even her birth date.

She was adopted at two years old and by the time she was seven she had begun to experience some feelings of alienation. “I felt lonely. People asked why I looked different from my sister who had blond hair and blue eyes. I felt angry, as I felt that nature had simply made me look different and they shouldn’t question it.”

Marcia began to search the house and found some papers, dated 1981, which said Martha Patricia Ramirez. “As my name was Marcia Engel, I thought that another child had passed through the house,” she explains.

“For many years I thought it wasn’t possible to look for my roots. I never imagined that my parents in Colombia would think about me or search for me.”

Then in 2005 Marcia telephoned the orphanage in Colombia which was noted in her adoption papers. “They sent me back my mother’s name and the name of a person in Colombia who could help me with my search. I had to pay around EUR 600 for the service,” she says.

Within four months Marcia had found her biological family and, after corresponding with them by phone and internet for eight months, she made the trip to the land of her birth.

“It was a beautiful experience but it wasn’t what I’d dreamed about. My biological mother told me her story; that when I was eleven months, she left me with a women and the government took me from her. The actual story was that she left me when I was two months with a friend of hers; she was only seventeen. The friend took me to the police and I ended up in the orphanage,” recounts Marcia.

“My father found out via my grandmother that I was in the orphanage and went to find me – he already had my older brother whom my mother had given birth to when she was 14 years. He found out that I had already been adopted by people living in a ‘foreign’ country.

“My biological father is very sweet. I see many similarities between him and me. I just thought, it's not meant for me to have a mother. I felt deceived by my own mother though; she kept changing the details in the story about how I ended up in the orphanage. But still, the most important thing is that I found her. And I found peace within myself about my story.”

Marcia is concerned that in poor countries like Columbia, mothers don’t know their rights. “There isn’t any government control and the system is riddled with human error. The system doesn’t work for children, it’s corrupt. You’ll see the same thing in other countries,” she says.

In 2007, the Dutch papers reported that Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin was tightening up supervision on adoption in response to two investigations which showed that the monitoring of adoptions has much to be desired. For instance, in India, one orphanage had arranged 350 illegal adoptions whereby children were abducted or taken from their families under false pretences.

In July 2009, Minister Ballin asked the Dutch childcare inspectorate to investigate the adoption of children from China following revelations in a television programme that, in one of China’s provinces, the authorities force parents to give their children up for adoption. The children are then adopted by foreigners, including Dutch couples. On their papers it is stated that the children have no parents.

Through Plan Angel, Marcia is working with organisations such as, which takes out lawsuits against governments and agencies when necessary.

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