Story by Robbie Conrad, Greater Houston Area Chapter, Regional Coordinator for ISS and SAF
"This is going to be a lucky year, for my family and I," Lenka said to me, smiling, as she received the paperwork with her mother's contact information. I will never forget that moment, or her statement, as it was the end of a months-long tracing process. However, it had been far longer for Lenka – seventeen years of separation from her mother, in fact. Lenka had set out for the United States from the Czech Republic in the mid-1990s, bringing her two children on the journey. She was eager to start fresh and build a new life, and Florida ultimately became her family's destination. As she began regularly moving around in West Florida for work, her mother, Hladikova, was doing the same in the Czech Republic, and written communication between them became irregular until it was totally disrupted in 1997.
Lenka's mother became aware of the Restoring Family Links (RFL) Program through the Czech Red Cross and initiated a tracing case to find her daughter in early 2013. The tracing case filtered down to the Capital Area Chapter in Tallahassee, Florida a few months later as RFL National Headquarters was able to peg Lenka's last known whereabouts in western Florida. A combination of public county records, phone book listings and social media led me to Lenka's son outside of Pensacola, Florida. After explaining the circumstances surrounding my visit, he put me in direct contact with Lenka. On the phone, I heard a great deal of disbelief in her voice as we initially spoke, as if she could not believe this moment had come. That disbelief soon turned into relief by the end of the conversation when we agreed to meet.
Lenka and I met shortly after that phone conversation in a restaurant that would provide us the chance to sit and talk in a quiet place. It was a moment akin to something from a TV show, like Unsolved Mysteries. We hugged instantly in the parking lot, all smiles, and she was very eager to get inside. She had so many questions. "How did you find me? Is my mother ok? The Red Cross does this service?"
After I explained to her about the RFL program and its services, she recounted her story to me in a quiet corner. She had left the Czech Republic with her babies after a series of emotional hardships and had all the while been searching for her own mother when she was in the United States, but to no avail. Now, she no longer had to look. It struck me that even in our developed nations with all their technology, these two individuals had such a difficult time trying to find one another, and highlighted just how worthwhile this service is to clients all over the world.
She stared at the paper with Hladikova's contact information on it for a few heartbeats before looking up at me and asking, "How can I repay for you this?" It was a question I hadn't prepared for. I simply replied, "By calling your mom." Following up with Lenka a week later, I found out she did just that and that their family had been reunited after over fifteen years of separation.
For more stories from the Capital Area Chapter in Tallahassee, Florida, please click here. More information about the Restoring Family Links program and the services it provides can be found on the American Red Cross website here. If you or someone you know needs help reconnecting with loved ones, the American Red Cross may be able to help. Please contact your local Red Cross chapter for more information on initiating a case.