Exiled Aunt Reconnected with Family

Story by Jon Dillon, Outreach and Casework Associate, Washington, DC

A photo, worn from years of passing between family members, was all that Margaret* had left of her aunt’s, but it was enough to give her hope that one day they would be reconnected. Through the work of the Restoring Family Links program of the Red Cross, that hope has become a reality.

When Margaret was only 12 years old, her aunt Sarah disappeared. She had been going to school in a remote village in Namibia far from where the family lived. The family was distraught with few leads or resources for searching for their loved one. 

Luckily, after a few months, Sarah contacted her brother, Margaret’s father. She had gone into exile in the United States. The family was able to maintain communication for a while, but after Margaret’s father passed away, staying in touch became more difficult, and eventually, was severed entirely.

The family worried for their aunt, but again found themselves with little information on where she was and had very limited means for staying in contact. Margaret yearned to learn how her favorite aunt was doing and what life in the United States was really like.

Time passed and circumstances did not change. Then through a friend, Margaret heard about the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross. She learned that she could write a message to her aunt and that if the Red Cross was able to locate Sarah, they would deliver that message and help them reconnect, free of charge.

Margaret was quick to write a message and share with the Red Cross all the information her family had concerning Debbie’s whereabouts in the United States. It’s difficult to sum up 13 years of separation in one note. In the end, Margaret wrote, “I would love to hear from you, and know how you are doing. We miss you very much.”

Less than a month after sending her message, volunteer caseworkers with the American Red Cross found Sarah. She was shocked to hear from her family and delighted to share her contact information with her niece to re-establish the communication that had been lost for over a decade. For years, she had felt ashamed for not being able to stay in contact with her family after her brother’s death. It was a relief to know that they were well and wanted to communicate with her as much as she wanted to communicate with them.

Many are unaware that the global Red Cross Movement can help reconnect loved ones separated internationally by conflict, disaster and migration; yet during and following these crises, family communication is a vital component of rebuilding lives and communities. If you or someone you know is looking to reconnect with family, the Red Cross may be able to help. You can learn more about these services by visiting redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies. You can also start your search today by clicking here.

*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identities of those involved in this story.