This week, as we highlight the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Humanity, there may be no better way to do so than to share a reconnection story. Reconnecting loved ones, whether husband and wife, brother and sister, uncle and niece, is an essential act of humanity - alleviating human suffering by helping those affected by conflict, disaster and migration learn the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. This story from Denver, CO celebrates humanity and the human spirit to endure despite all odds.
Story by Jessica Murison, Volunteer, Denver, Colorado
Imagine telling your husband that you were going to visit family, unaware that as you leave your home that day that it would be the last time you would see or hear from your husband for several years.
What is unimaginable for most of us is reality for some refugees. And it was reality for Sifa.
In 2009, Sifa was living with her husband and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She told her husband, Elisha, she was going to visit her mother-in-law, and set out for the village. The DRC is a relatively unstable country, with rebel groups contracted in territorial and resource disputes. Shortly after Sifa arrived in her mother-in-law’s village, violence broke out. She and her children had to flee, leaving her husband behind.
Sifa and her children became refugees. They had lost all contact with Elisha. In 2013 they relocated to Denver, where Sifa learned of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, which works to reconnect families separated by conflict, disasters, migration, or other humanitarian emergencies. Sifa opened a case with the American Red Cross by writing a letter to the Red Cross chapter in Denver. In that letter, she gave details on the last known whereabouts of her husband, and the last time she heard from him. The Red Cross opened a tracing case for Sifa and her family in August 2014.
Tracking down people who have been scattered by conflict can take months – sometimes years. A year after the Red Cross took her case, the network of Red Cross societies in Africa had finally located Elisha, and sent a letter from him to be delivered to Sifa.
On Saturday, August 22, 2015, Sifa came to the American Red Cross office in Denver to read the letter. The letter was written in Lingala (Ngala), which is a Bantu language spoken throughout the northwestern part of the DRC.
Upon arrival, Sifa looked happy but a little nervous, waiting for news about Elisha. She brought along her daughter Debbie, a sophomore at the local high school who enjoyed hip hop and volleyball. We took a seat at a round table, and with an interpreter, gave Sifa the letter.
As she read, she traced the letter with her finger, her hand proudly displaying her gold wedding band. She touched the paper gingerly, as this piece of paper connected her to her husband.
The letter was fairly simple. Elisha gave many names, telling her that people back home were doing well. He asked how she was, how were his children, what was her life like? As Sifa read the letter aloud in their native tongue, tears streamed down Debbie's face. She missed her dad.
Elisha is currently in a refugee camp in Uganda. He provided a phone number where Sifa could reach him, so that she can now continue to communicate with him by phone.
Holding the letter in her hand, Sifa smiled and graciously thanked us. Her positive attitude, no doubt, is the sole reason why she can endure the long separation from her husband. Since our meeting, Sifa said she has spoken with Elisha by phone and said she is already researching how to help her husband immigrate to Colorado to be reunited with his family.
The American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program successfully reconnected more than 4,000 families last year, and opens thousands of new cases each year. Sifa and Elisha’s story is a reminder of the impact that conflict can have on civilians, tearing families apart. Through the Restoring Family Links program, families like Sifa’s have a chance of being brought back together – first by a letter, then by phone, and hopefully, someday, in person.
For more stories from the American Red Cross Colorado Region, please click here.