Modeste and Augustin: One Message to Find Each Other After 20 Years Apart


Giulia Balestra

Modeste and Augustin  were separated in 1997. The First Congo War had just broken out and this was the beginning of a time that would destabilize the country for years to come.  

Modeste and Augustin: One Message to Find Each Other After 20 Years Apart

 

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It was the 24th of February 1997 when the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFLC) reached the village of Oicha, North Kivu, in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Augustin’s* memories of that day are still very vivid. The First Congo War had broken out in 1996 and this was the beginning of a time that would destabilize the country for years to come.

Modeste*, a Rwandan Hutu aged 31, was a priest at the church where Augustin used to go every Sunday. Same church, same community, different journeys. 

Augustin is 40 today. He lives in Beni, only a few kilometers away from where he lived until that day in 1997. It has been 20 years since Modeste and him were torn apart by the unrest. 20 years without knowing what happened to his friend. Two weeks ago, Augustin had his first chance to look for Modeste. It came through a text message on his phone: “Are you looking for a missing family member or friend? REFUNITE allows you to search for your missing loved ones via SMS. Reply to register now”.

One of our Congolese agents from REFUNITE’s call center in Nairobi, Kenya, got in touch with Augustin just a few days after he registered himself onto the platform to learn more about his experience with REFUNITE. Augustin had not been able to find Modeste and asked for help. While on the phone, our team ran a search and found a matching profile registered in 2012.

“If only I could talk to this person, I would know if that’s Modeste…” says Augustin.

We just need a phone, a speaker, and the REFUNITE team gathered around the table.

-Hello? This is Augustin… It was the 24th of February 1997. I came to church that morning and my mother had cooked for you and Bienfait, the other priest from Bukavu. Are you still in touch with Bienfait?”

A long description of that day goes on for several minutes. “Do you remember this? Is it you, Modeste?”

The team holds its breath and fills the room with hopes. There is silence on both ends now. And then just a few words. Not many but enough: ”It’s me Augustin. Yes. It’s me…Modeste”.

 

 

*For security reasons, all names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

 

25th June 2017.