A seemingly endless line of children, youth, and the occasional adult gathered outside the Feria Internacional in San Salvador the morning of March 29th, 2011. Everyone trickled through the gates one by one and rushed toward a huge ampitheatre decorated with kites and crawling with people for the Day of the Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict. While the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly first named March 29th the Day of the Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict in 2007, this Tuesday marked the first time the Salvadoran government participated in the celebration, publicly acknowledging the many children who suffered forced disappearance and separation from their families during the armed conflict. Pro Busqueda coordinated this exciting historic commemorative event together with the Salvadoran Secretariat of Social Inclusion, lead by First Lady Vanda Pignato.
Probusqueda, a Salvadoran non-profit organization dedicated to searching for those disappeared as children during the armed conflict, has spearheaded the fight for truth, justice, and reparations for disappeared children and their families. After seventeen years advocating for families of the disappeared and working with many individuals who were disappeared, for Pro Busqueda to finally hear the government's acknowledgement of responsibility for the many children forcibly taken from their families during the war marked a historical moment. Father Jon Cortina, S.J. started Pro Busqueda together with families from the community of Guarjila shortly after the end of the war. Families have reported over nine hundred cases of disappeared children to the staff of Pro Busqueda, who have found over three hundred people, and continue to search for more than five hundred. Pro Busqueda brought a number of young people who were disappeared and have since been found to the commemoration on Tuesday.
Members of Pro Busqueda opened the event reminding everyone that it was a morning to pause and remember the those children torn from their homes, to share the search so many families and individuals have walked, and through this moment of truth step toward justice and begin to build sanity and reconciliation for El Salvador. They then brought the crowd together chanting “No los olvidamos,” We do not forget them. School groups, individuals, and organizations from all fourteen departments of El Salvador added their voices.
Much of the crowd surged to their feet at the announcement of President Mauricio Funes' entrance. As Funes slowly descended the main staircase with his wife at his side and a trail of dignitaries, members of Pro Busqueda, and victims of forced disappearance behind him, he shook the hand of each of the kids and young adults lined up alongside the stairs, a wide grin lighting his face. Once Presidente Funes and his wife took their seats on the stage, the official commemorative act began. The act included the introduction of a postage stamp for the Day of Children Disappeared During the Armed Conflict, featuring a child's footprints, prizes awarded to university students who wrote essays about disappeared children, and speeches by Ester Alvarenga, Coordinator of Probusqueda, and President Funes. As icing on the cake, those gathered had the pleasure of listening to internationally renowned singer/song-writer Julieta Venegas perform following the commemorative act.