36 years later, travel blog reunites kidnapped woman with Colombian family

36 years ago, Nicole Kisala was a young child living in the outskirts of the Colombian city of Bogotá.

Happily ensconced amidst her extended family, she still has memories: her mother’s long, black hair, the dimple on her dad’s chin, her mother’s food cart with a little door – and a vague memory of the last conversation she had with her older brother before she lost sight of him.

At that moment, as a woman dressed in black grabbed her hand and spirited her away, Nicole became one of the many disadvantaged children that were kidnapped in 1970s and ’80s Colombia.

Often times they were adopted away to the United States, where well-meaning families who thought they were rescuing an abandoned child unwittingly adopted them.

36 years later, with the help of Colombian travel blog See Colombia, Nicole has been reunited with her long-last family. The resemblances are uncanny, the joy is palatable and the family is exuberant. Their daughter has come home.

Using their perch at the intersection of online and off, the See Colombia travel team mined their networks to get the word out about Nicole’s story. They took to Twitter regularly, posting the story and urging others to do the same. They shared on Facebook as well, asking friends to tell anyone about Nicole.

Offline, they contacted as many interested parties as possible, eventually going viral and garnering national press in Colombia and other Latin American media outlets. Within 4 months, they managed to connect Nicole – born Irene – with her long-last family in the outskirts of Bogotá.

Nicole has been posting video blogs on her Facebook page chronicling her emotional journey, and is ecstatic:

 “I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned. It was so wonderful to finally be in the arms of my mother and family. I had nothing to go on. I did not know my name, birthdate or anything. All my adoption papers were falsified and my adoptive family was lied to and told I was abandoned. I can’t thank Marcela and her team enough for all they’ve done.”

And with a French television crew following the entire story, in addition to an upcoming book, this story will likely continue spreading throughout the world.

The takeaway lesson here is how the team used a multi-channel strategy to craft the most powerful and far reaching narrative for Nicole. This story might not have seen such a successful fairytale ending if it had been only contained to social media and a few blog posts.

Colombia Travel Blog did a fantastic job facilitating this reunion, and have demonstrated how the raw power of online technology tools, combined with direct face-to-face communication, can truly transform the trajectory of a human life – and build an enormous amount of goodwill for a brand.

For some more background on this story, See Colombia’s Director of Communications JL Pastor answered a few questions for Tnooz.

Could you please explain more about your digital strategy? How did you use digital tools and social media to get the word out about Nicole’s story?

We think of our digital strategy as an extension of our overall communications strategy, from the beginning we decided that over and above blogging about us and our company and products, our main objective would be to tell the world how great Colombia is as a travel destination, despite what people may have heard. We want to show that Colombia is a different country from that of the 80s and 90s and essentially that is as safe to travel to as any other Latin American country. So with that spirit our posts, Facebook updates and tweets tend to talk a lot about Colombian idiosyncrasy, cultural differences, expat testimonials.

When we released the first post about Nicole it went viral very quickly, especially among Colombians living abroad that had many contacts in Colombia, and make its way into a huge Colombia Facebook group with about 2 Million likes. The fact that we focus on the human factor is vital.

How has the success of your digital initiatives with Nicole’s story informed your perspectives on how other travel brands can use these very same tools for their stories?

Colombia’s case is a particular one. We are just getting out of having a terrible reputation that some Hollywood films for instance refuse to let go of, and we use the blog and social media to kind of fight that stereotype.

In emotional posts like the one about Nicole, we want to show the human face of the country, the solidarity of our people and how those negative things every day are more firmly cast into the history of the country, rather than the reality of today. This has been a very successful strategy for us, people respond to what we are trying to do because it’s genuine.

We share these stories because we care. As far as other travel brands go, we think that focusing as much on appealing locals and people interested in the culture as people who are potential clients helps – we create a community, and people respond by discussing the virtues of travel to Colombia themselves. It’s not just one way, the way we see it is we’re part of the conversation.

Tell us a bit about how you see the role of technology playing into the travel industry as a whole. What does your success say about the ultimate utility of travel blogs?

From our point of view travel blogs are just not optional any more if you’re an online travel company. It all comes down to peer-to-peer communication. Every member of our team writes at some point or an other in our blog; we are travelers like our readers, travelers that happen to be work the travel industry, but that have the same way of thinking as our readers and potential passengers.

We try to give an unbiased view on traveling in Colombia, and that sometimes mean admitting openly that there are no go areas still for instance. Honest content is the key, travelers trusting travelers. More and more technology is playing a crucial part in travel, and the way people travel is changing.

Today they can connect to Twitter and talk peer-to-peer about where to go. This means, of course, that travel companies risk being overlooked for more independent voices. We believe the success of our travel blog shows that there is still a place online for an honest voice that can bring together a community in one place, and that gives travelers a platform to share their passion as well as a place to learn about a country that was somewhat off the radar 10 years ago. Nicole’s story shows, once this community is established, just how powerful this can be.

Read Nicole’s full story as reported by See Colombia here.

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.



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  1. Bruce Rosard

    This is really, really, REALLY awesome. Congratulations to See Columbia for making a serious difference in the world, it also brought tears to my eyes.

    I can imagine a blog/social media site focused on adopted children/teens/adults that want to find their birth parents. Most adoptive parents who don’t know the birth parents should support this (I have an adopted son and if he wants to meet his birth mom when he’s old enough, we know how to find her in another part of the world because we hired a private detective to track her down for that purpose).

    Great coverage on this Tnooz!

    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      That’s a great idea! It was amazing to see what See Colombia accomplished with their network, so there’s definitely a precedent.

  2. Dubai Holiday Rental

    I have tear in my eyes..Technology can do wonders only if we use it in the right way. Congratulations to Nicole Kisala and her family

  3. Lee Ann

    Birth family!

  4. Lee Ann

    That is aweome. and very encouraging, I have search for my birthday money for a long time with no luck nothing to go on. Born in December 1965 in San Antonio.

  5. Nicole Culverhous AKA Irene Blanco

    To God be the Glory!! It is a miracle. Thank you for sharing the story and giving hope to people around the world that the Colombian people have strong family bonds that transcend time. Colombia is passion.


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