Finding family and love!

Jean-Damascène, wearing a bright blue suit, and his mother, wearing a bright orange an blue dress, hold each other smiling"I did not know if my parents and seven brothers and sisters were dead or alive. I did not know if they were together or not, or what country they were even in”, says Jean-Damascène Hakizimana.
Born in Rwanda, the 29-year-old man was resettled to Sherbrooke, Quebec in 2013 from Democratic Republic of Congo. He was separated from his family for 21 long years.

In 1996, Jean-Damascène’s family fled Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One year later, the family had to flee again. While fleeing, the family was separated.  Jean-Damascène, who was only 8 years old, was found by a soldier and taken to an orphanage in DRC and then to a refugee camp.

Despite many years away from his loved ones, Jean Damascéne never lost hope. He believed there would be a day when he would see them all again. ‘’Ten members of a family cannot all disappear,’’ he said.

After two years of searching in seven countries, the news he was waiting for finally arrived – his mother, two of his brothers and three of his sisters were found in Rwanda. He distinctly recalls the moment when Isabelle Marin, Case Manager for the Canadian Red Cross Restoring Family Links program gave him the Red Cross message from his mother and brother, with photos and a phone number.

“I was so happy. I recognized all of them. I immediately called my mother,” remembers Jean-Damascène with emotion. “She was crying and said, ‘It is you, it is you!’ ”

Two years later, Jean-Damascène travelled to Uganda to be reunited with his mother, his older  brother and one of his sisters.

“When my mother and I met, we cried for a long time holding one another,” said Jean-Damascène with a smile on his face.

Since finding his family in 2015, Jean-Damascène had also found his childhood sweetheart “Delphine” who was living close to his mother.

“It became two happy celebrations – getting married and being reunited with my family. It was the most beautiful day of my life,” he said.

The Red Cross Restoring Family Links Program

Jean-Damascène’s story is not a rarity. Many families across the world are separated because of conflicts, natural disasters or migration. Fortunately, the Restoring Family Links Program helps these families to re-establish contact when all the other means fail. The transmission of Red Cross Messages and the search for family members are done through the International Red Cross and Red Crescent network that consists of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegations and National Societies in more than 190 countries.