Reconnecting across continents

By Michelle Palansky

*Note – identifiers such as names and images have been withheld from this story in order to protect family members still in the Congo.

Restoring Family Links re-unites family members separated by conflict and more.A chance encounter at a party changed G’s life forever. Armed conflict and chaos in the Congo ripped her family apart, and after almost a decade of separation and searching, she finally found a path to reunification.

G was in Gatineau. She was visiting a family who had unofficially adopted her when she first immigrated to Canada as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. At a party, G was introduced to a fellow countrywoman. She was showing G pictures from her last trip home, when G suddenly spotted a familiar face. It was her daughter. G was convinced it was her daughter.

“She saw that I was shaking,” said G. “She asked for her phone back and I asked her if she could send me the picture. I said (in a whisper) I am the mom. I was crying. I am the mom, please help me.”

Initially reluctant, G managed to convince the stranger from the Congo to tell her what she could about her daughter’s whereabouts. She did not have her home address but she did have the address of the neighborhood church.

G passed on the information to her contact at the Restoring Family Links program (RFL) with the Canadian Red Cross. A few years earlier, G had opened a file with RFL. At first she did not understand how the Red Cross could help her find her family. Her only experience with the Red Cross was as a volunteer corps that provided safe burials for victims of Ebola. G did not realize that along with many other initiatives, Red Cross organizations around the world help families reconnect by tracing missing relatives, confirming detentions, and delivering messages when postal services are disrupted.

In the fall of 2018, G received a call from her Restoring Family Links case officer. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had located her daughter. And her grandchild. The photo that the Red Cross provided showed her grown up daughter cradling a child of her own.

“They (Red Cross) told me that they have her phone number,” said G. “I was scared, I was happy. I don’t know how I felt.”

Once they reconnected, G discovered that the entire time that she had been searching for her daughter; her daughter had also been searching for her. And she learned that she was a grandmother not once but twice over. Now she and her daughter are in regular contact and all of G’s energy is devoted to bringing her family to their new home in Winnipeg.

When G first moved to Winnipeg, a neighbour told her to have faith and all of the doors that were now closed to her were going to open.

“All those doors are opening now,” said G.

Learn more about the Canadian Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

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