Connecting Sisters after more than Twenty Years

Photo: Amber Bierfreund/American Red Cross — Khadra Farah receives a Red Cross message from a sister she hasn’t seen in 20 years.

Photo: Amber Bierfreund/American Red Cross — Khadra Farah receives a Red Cross message from a sister she hasn’t seen in 20 years.

Story by Marissa Davis, North Florida Region, Volunteer

Photography by Amber Bierfreund, North Florida Region, Communications Manager

Fleeing what had become a horrific conflict in Somalia, Khadra Farah escaped with nothing but the clothes on her back. She left behind her home and all of her possessions to find safety in Yemen in 1988. From there, she went to the United States, her brother to Europe, not knowing what had become of their younger sister. The family thought that she remained in Somalia for another year, but heard rumors that the boat she was on in 1990 sank. For more than twenty years they feared their sister was dead.

Earlier this year, Farah was so saddened about her sister and the recent passing of their mother that she chose to confide in a friend who then gave her the number to the local American Red Cross office, suggesting she ask them for help finding out what really happened to her sister all those years ago.

Liz Smith, the Service to the Armed Forces and International Program Manager for the North Florida Region of the American Red Cross, received her call and documented the following from their first meeting. “I visited Mrs. Farah when her husband was at work and her kids were at school. She shook my hand as I took off my shoes, and she led me into her kitchen. Mrs. Farah had brewed hot green tea and served homemade flat bread with dates on the table. As we sat at her table and had tea, she showed me a picture of the sister she was seeking, and her younger sister and brother. They were all very young and quite handsome. I conducted an interview and obtained more details about the circumstances of their last communication with the missing sister.”

Photo: Amber Bierfreund/American Red Cross. Khadra Farah pauses for a photograph with her caseworker, Liz Smith, after reading a Red Cross message sent from her sister in Yemen.

Photo: Amber Bierfreund/American Red Cross. Khadra Farah pauses for a photograph with her caseworker, Liz Smith, after reading a Red Cross message sent from her sister in Yemen.

After the interview, Farah’s information was submitted to the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross. Smith was pleased to hear that it was accepted and forwarded to the Red Cross partner in Yemen. The Northeast Florida Chapter was then notified that they had located Farah’s sister and that there was a Red Cross message from her, which Smith chose to deliver in person.

Upon arrival, Farah was filled with great joy because she had already spoken with her sister by phone through the Red Cross partner in Yemen. She “almost died” when she heard her sister’s voice, and was overcome with happiness and relief knowing that after more than twenty years, her sister was alive and well. But tugging at her heartstrings was a longing to reunite in person with her sister once again.

Within the Red Cross message, Farah’s sister explained that she has lived in a refugee camp all these years, never knowing the whereabouts or well-being of any of her family. Farah has asked the Red Cross to send another message verifying that her family can accept and provide for her sister in the United States, with hopes that the family will one day be able to reunite. That Red Cross message is now being processed.

“It was amazing to be a part of something like this and it happened so fast,” says Smith. “This is what Red Cross is all about, helping people. I am thankful to the thoughtful neighbor who suggested our organization and provided direction to her friend in need.”

The Restoring Family Links program at the Red Cross helps reconnect families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. To learn more about the program and how it can help you reconnect with loved ones, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

For more stories from the Red Cross North Florida Region, please click here.