John* had only been in the United States for nine months when he was approached by Red Cross International Services Regional Specialist Lisa Taibi.
“She said, ‘you have a message.’ I said, ‘are you sure?’ It was not easy to believe,” John says.
John hadn’t seen any of his siblings in almost 20 years. After leaving them to work with small businesses across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), John was eventually forced to flee to Zimbabwe due to the conflict in his native country.
“They were looking for young men to join the militia,” John says. “If they couldn’t find the male, they would find the wife and kids and rape, beat and kill them.”
Thankfully, John’s wife and four children were eventually able to join him at the refugee camp in Zimbabwe. Even after the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) helped the family, which now includes two additional children, resettle in Buffalo, he still had no idea what happened to the rest of his family back home in the DRC.
“Even their area was becoming dangerous,” John said. “Many people we knew died on that side. I thought my family was among them.”
The day before Thanksgiving 2015, Taibi tracked John down with help from the Catholic Charities Refugee Program with a message from his sister, Ngomba.
“It said, ‘If this is you, believe it is me. I’m in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe,” John explained. “When I saw the message on paper, it was mixed feelings. Joy, but also thoughts of those who had passed away.”
Ngomba had no idea if John was still alive, but approached the Red Cross in Zimbabwe asking for help in finding out what happened to her brother. Through the global Red Cross Movement, volunteers were able work with various agencies and locate John in the United States.
“Many people are afraid to do this,” Taibi says. “I hope this story helps others feel comfortable to approach the Red Cross and ask for help.”
Ngomba is still in the Zimbabwe refugee camp, but continues to send messages through Taibi and the Red Cross. John has made it known that his intention is to bring Ngomba to live with his family in Buffalo, despite the challenges he and his family faced moving here.
“Compared to where we are coming from, not like here,” he says. “They’re friendly on this side. On the other side [in Zimbabwe], they would ask where you were from, then ask when are you going back?”
While John is still waiting and hoping for his sister to be brought safely to him in western New York through the efforts of the UNHCR, he is grateful to the Red Cross for helping make it a possibility.
“I’m thankful to them, they did something I was not expecting,” he says. “Anyone in my condition, instead of being alone, thinking of your relatives, go to the Red Cross. They may trace them and find them for you. It’s very good for me to be in contact with my sister.”
*Pseudonym used to protect identity