This Week in Restoring Family Links News 1/11/16 — 11/15/16

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 1/11/16 — 11/15/16

This past Monday, long-awaited relief finally came to Madaya, a remote Syrian town on the outskirts of Damascus where more than two dozen people have starved in the past two weeks as a result of humanitarian blocking from pro-government forces. The last time Madaya received any form of aid was October 18, driving residents into such desperation that many have been trying to survive off of grass, leaves, and boiled water.   Madaya has garnered an immense international response, with many prominent figures speaking out about the state of horror there. UN Secratary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday called the use of starvation as a weapon a "war crime", and relayed reports from UN teams that the residents of Madaya were "little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk"

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Reuniting a Family torn apart by Civil War

Story by Niki McMillan, National Headquarters, International Communications Senior Associate

“It was like finally waking up from a bad dream.”

That’s how Sylvester Gboya describes reuniting with his wife and children after five long years of separation.

“The American Red Cross made it happen.”

Originally from Sierra Leone, Gboya was working in a bauxite mine near the capital city of Freetown when intense fighting forced him to seek refuge in a displacement camp. When a second attack occurred, he traveled by foot to the neighboring country of Mali where his family eventually was able to reunite with him. They applied for asylum in the U.S. but only Gboya’s application was accepted. Immigration Services suggested he apply for his family once he arrived in the U.S. Feeling it was the best chance for his family to escape the war, Gboya left to start a new life in New Haven, Connecticut. His children were 3 years old and 17 months.

His first few years in America were rough. He injured himself at his new roofing job and spent a year recovering from surgery. Barely making ends meet, he was quickly losing hope he’d ever see his family again. Years came and went. Gboya’s family still hadn’t made it to the U.S.

One day, someone suggested he reach out to the American Red Cross. They had a program that assisted families separated by war and disaster; perhaps they could help.

It was through this program, Restoring Family Links, that Gboya was able to send Red Cross Messages through to his family and reconnect. Eventually, his wife and two children were able to join him in the U.S.

“That day, I will never forget it,” Gboya said of finally reuniting with his family. “I felt at home when I saw them. I can’t believe we are back together again.”

Some fifteen years have passed, but the Gboyas still remain grateful to the American Red Cross. Daughter Alimata Gboya, now 20, has volunteered with her local Red Cross. She, her brother Prince, now 22, and her father, all traveled to Washington, D.C. recently to support a World Refugee Day event hosted by the American Red Cross.

“I am so thankful to the American Red Cross,” Gboya said. “I count on them first.”

Last year, the Red Cross assisted those seeking to reconnect with their loved ones from countries such as the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan and facilitated the exchange of 279,000 messages. For more information visit

"Waking up the Dead" by Restoring Family Links

Story by Mohamed Gassama, Western New York Region, International Services Volunteer

One of the perhaps lesser-known services of the American Red Cross is reconnecting families who have been separated internationally. Like most of our services, this is done largely through the efforts of our incredible volunteers such as Mohamed Gassama. Prior to arriving in the United States nearly a year ago, Mohamed worked for the Red Cross Society in his native Sierra Leone. Now an International Services volunteer living in Rochester, Mohamed shared this uniquely personal account of helping a teen now living in Liberia reconnect with his native village:

There is hardly anything more painful than finding oneself in the midst of unfamiliar faces after having been separated from loved ones as a result a nerve-breaking circumstance. Some people could go on an empty stomach for hours or even days because of the grinding pain caused by having no immediate relatives, and in the worst cases no familiar face to turn to. This pain was a common experience Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced persons went through during and after years of internal armed conflict.

Warranted by this situation, the International Red Cross Movement stepped up to its international responsibility by facilitating restoration of family links (RFL) between separated families.

As an RFL caseworker, I completed my notes and proposed actions on each case planned for the following week on a Thursday afternoon and set off for Katanga village to deliver Red Cross Messages (RCMs). A five-year-old boy (now 17) left behind by his parents during a brutal invasion could remember his father’s nick-name and his birth village. The Red Cross registered and kept track of his movement for six months until he could finally put together the pieces of a heart-trembling experience 12 years ago.

His father was killed during one of the attacks on the village. During this attack his elder brother and sister, ages 10 and 12 at that time, were conscripted by one of the fighting forces. They were later reported dead. The only surviving member of the family was the mother. She lived in a state of despondency in a one-bedroom mud hut on the outskirts of the village since she got back from hiding.

Like most villages in that region, it was the tradition of Katanga to perform sacrifice for the ‘departed’. In observance of this tradition, the community decided to perform a ceremony for her family on a Friday.

I got to this village the same day. On arrival, I went to the chief to observe the usual courtesies. He halted me a few minutes into the briefing. ‘Stop! Stop!’ he said. ‘This is meant for the ears of the entire village’, he jumped out of his seat.

This got me nervous and uneasy! It sent shock waves down my spine. The chief and his men marshaled me to a large gathering a few yards from his house, where the ceremony was taking place. In a split second we were surrounded by almost the entire village.

In a few more seconds a woman in her early fifties emerged from the middle of the crowd. In no time she became the center of attention. It became obvious at that point she was the reason for my visit. It was apparent from the tears raining down her cheek that she already knew about the boy's message.

The chief requested I deliver the message to the woman publicly, against the normal practice. Everyone present burst into tears. Tears of joy, I believe.

A few yards away from where I stood, I overheard an old man say, ‘Red Cross de gi life to die man’ meaning, ‘the Red Cross raises the dead’. No one imagined this could have happened because everyone believed the boy was dead. Receiving a message from him was like waking the dead from the grave.

Food was served and prayers offered for the late father, brother and sister. I collected the reply and took some pictures to deliver to the boy in a refugee camp in Liberia.

Through the work of Restoring Family Links volunteers, like Mohamed, families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, or other humanitarian emergencies can be reconnected. To find out more about the Restoring Family Links program in your area, please contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit