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