Separated but Never Forgotten: Red Cross Reunites Family Members on Two Continents

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Story by Los Angeles Chapter Communications Team

“Hi Mom. It’s me, your daughter. I’m fine. I hope to find you and the others well. I hope to see you alive and speak to you.”

With this hand-written message, L.A. area-resident Grace (pseudonym) began her search to find her mother and family half way around the world in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa.  The 39-year-old last spoke to them in 2008 when they exchanged New Year’s greetings. After that, she lost all contact with them.

When the bloody post-election political conflict occurred in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010, Grace feared the worst. She never gave up hope her family was still alive, but she didn’t know who could help her find them. Eventually she learned about the American Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links program which, through collaboration with Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world, traces more than 1,000 people each year who have been separated because of conflict, disaster, or migration.

Map of Cote d'Ivoire

Map of Cote d'Ivoire

Red Cross Los Angeles Region caseworkers met with Grace in March 2013 and helped her write a Red Cross Message to send to her family. They forwarded her message and photo to the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC and then to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Côte d’Ivoire. One of eight living children, she knew her family would be in either her hometown or the country’s largest city, Abidjan. Since 70 percent of her village’s residents have the same last name, the caseworker warned her that the search could be challenging.

Five months later, an L.A. Region caseworker hand-delivered to her a photo of three family members taken in front of the Côte d’Ivoire ICRC office, along with a message from her brother. The message said that the family was alive and well, with the exception of their older brother, who had died. Grace was overcome with emotion upon hearing that her mother and siblings were alive, but also that she lost her brother – the last person with whom she had spoken.

Now, Grace doesn’t let a week go by without talking to her family. She remembers that first time she called the number provided on that first message. They could all barely speak because of the tears of joy. At one point, her brother said with relief, “We found you.”  To which Grace playfully replied, “No, I found you.”