NEWBURYPORT — Kristen Cejka was adopted in 1979 from an orphanage in war-torn El Salvador and brought to Massachusetts.
Although Cejka doesn't know much about her biological family other than that her mother was 17, and her father was 23 when she was born, in recent years she's wanted to know more.
Now almost 30, she wants to find them and do what she can to help other orphans there, so next month Cejka will make her first trip back to El Salvador to continue her search.
Now a social worker living in Newburyport, Cejka began working about a year ago to seek out her biological family after her adoptive mother, Joyce, had been pushing her to start the process. About a month and a half ago she found an organization called Pro-Busqueda in San Salvador, an association of Salvadoran families who were forced to give up their children during the civil war in the country.
"I decided now because it just made sense; it was time to do it," said Cejka. "I had wanted to get my college years done and completed without interference. Obviously this will be an emotional trip for me."
Cejka said it is unknown if she has any brothers or sisters but that it is a possibility. She said she recognizes the importance of her roots, even if they are painful and filled with trauma, she still wants to learn about her life before adoption.
"They are part of who I am," said Cejka. "Ultimately they are part of who my children are. I've always felt like documenting life is incredibly important. There is a story with my biological family before I was born. I'm certainly interested in that."
Cejka said her first American address was in Marblehead, but her mothers' work took them to Ohio for a short time before finally moving to Newburyport. But her parents never hid from her where she was really from.
"I always knew I was adopted," said Cejka. "It never was a secret. We read books about it and went to support groups about adoption."
Cejka said the culture of El Salvador didn't play a large part in her upbringing, but she was well-educated about her ancestry.
"(My mother) spoke with me about the struggles of El Salvador," said Cejka. "A lot of the history regarding the country was never a surprise. I think I began to actually internalize that while I was in high school. The pride of being from El Salvador didn't come until later when I was high school aged, with maturity."
Although Cejka has always wondered about her biological parents she said she feels lucky for the life she's had.
"I have had a wonderful life and have been incredibly blessed," said Cejka. "I have always had opportunities."
Cejka knows of a few people who were able to find their families through the Pro-Busqueda organization but she is also prepared in case her family may be deceased or not interested in meeting her.
"My understanding is that biological families in El Salvador are encouraged to register with Pro-Busqueda, and it is up to them to do a search as well," said Cejka. "Pro-Busqueda is there and willing to work with people. I am certainly prepared that my family might not be interested or living."
Cejka said that she would be going on the trip with her mother and her boyfriend of six years, Peter Walsh. They will meet with the people from Pro-Busqueda as well as visit ruins, tour volcanoes and coffee plantations and visit sites erected to remember the civil war in El Salvador.
Cejka also said that there was no timeline available on when or if ever, she will be able to find her biological family.
"I don't know Pro-Busqueda is giving timelines at this point," said Cejka. "It may take several months or years to do."
When Kristen Cejka returns to El Salvador in search of her biological parents, she also wants to bring donations from members of the Newburyport community to benefit the orphanage she was adopted from in San Salvador. She is looking for items such as clothing for kids aged infant to preteen, art supplies, toothbrushes, toys, diapers, sneakers and flip-flops. Donations can be dropped off at St. Paul's Church in Newburyport at the porch entrance on Summer Street, Monday through Friday during business hours and on Saturday and Sunday mornings before March 8. For more information, contact Cejka at email@example.com.