Story by American Red Cross, Tucson, Arizona Chapter
In early March 2017, Hawa Mailon met with Elissa Maish, the Red Cross Restoring Family Links Caseworker in Tucson, Arizona. Hawa’s story involved a first-hand account of most horrific epidemic of the decade and included an ending that no one really anticipated.
Hawa was born and grew up in Guinea Conakry on the west coast of Africa. She married and had two sons, Oumar and Mohammed. For several years after the death of her husband in 2005, Hawa was able to keep her small family together. Eviction from their apartment forced them to split up. Each lived with different friends in various locations. They eventually lost touch with each other. Oumar was only 7 years old. In 2016, Hawa gained refugee status and arrived in Tucson. She never stopped thinking and worrying about her sons. In March 2017, at an informal get-together in Tucson, she lamented the loss of her sons to a young man from Guinea. She was about to experience the serendipity of receiving information that might lead to her son.
The young man told her that he was originally from Guinea and recently immigrated from Casablanca, Morocco. When Hawa told him her story, he mentioned that he used to socialized with a “club” of French-speaking friends in Casablanca, andthat one of them was named Oumar. Because Oumar is a common name, the Caseworker asked Hawa to set up a meeting with the young man in an effort to collect more information about Oumar. When they met, he was unable to provide much more information about Oumar, including the family name, but he did have a contact of another one of the “boys from the club” who still lived in Casablanca. A call was placed to Casablanca. The caseworker was able to ascertain Oumar’s full name and nationality. It was a match to Hawa’s son! Elissa says that she, Hawa, and the interpreter sat in silence in order to process the significance of the moment. After 15 years, Hawa was on the verge of possibly speaking to her son.
The next step was to plan the initial conversation with Oumar. This had to be done carefully so as not to provide false hopes, or add to the pain of separation and loss, or to place either one in an uncomfortable situation. Then, the second call was placed to Casablanca - to Oumar. The Interpreter introduced the Red Cross “Restoring Family Links” services and Oumar was advised that a client was present at the Red Cross office in Arizona who believed she was his mother. To verify that Oumar was her son, questions provided by Hawa were asked that only he could answer. Oumar also provided questions that only his mother would be able to answer. Oumar’s persmission was obtained before handing over the phone. Once she heard his voice, she could not speak. Hawa’s growing emotion had led to a wail that confirmed to all that her son was no longer missing. No one will forget the moment.
Oumar shared quite a story. In 2013, he was 15 years old and still living in Guinea, Conakry. As the entire world soon learned, it was the location of first outbreak of Ebola. Terrified after losing 14 friends, he recounted how he fled to Senegal and then to Morocco. Elissa had the opportunity to speak with Oumar directly. He said that he did not feel completely safe in Morocco, but was living with friends. He said that he never contracted the Ebola virus and is healthy. Oumar’s immediate plans are to remain in Casablanca because he has no resources. Then he asked the Caseworker if the Red Cross could help him find his brother? Elissa and Hawa are now completing a Restoring Family Links Tracing Inquiry to find Mohammed.
Oumar provided his address information and Hawa has now sent a Red Cross Message to him. Enclosed with the message form is this beautiful picture of a very grateful mother. Elissa told us that it was an incredible honor to be able to reconnect this mother and son.