Lia, 17 years old, left for school one morning like any other day, unaware that she would not be coming back home to her family. She was attending a business related course in high school, as she dreamed of becoming successful and being able to provide a comfortable life for her family. She is the first-born of a family with three brothers and two sisters.
That very day in 2002, the conflict broke in Uvira and Lia didn’t manage to get back home. While trying to escape from the conflict, she was abducted and raped. She got pregnant and was helped to escape by a man who would later become her husband. He took Lia to Goma, where she gave birth to her first daughter, in 2003.
In 2010, Lia’s community was attacked again and, in his attempts to protect her, her husband was taken from their home. She then experienced the horror of being raped again by several men, causing her serious injury. Friends and neighbours took her to the Hospital in Uvira and after a short while she learned that her husband had died in Goma.
Lia found herself alone. She was an orphan, a widow and a mother of three children. In 2011, she decided to build a new life in Burundi, but the insecurity there made her take a tough decision and send her children to Kenya, in order to keep them safe. It was only in 2017 that Lia managed to get to Nairobi, where she and her children were welcomed by a Banyamulenge community. She got in a new relationship, but at the time the partner knew she was pregnant, he left her, leaving her alone again, now with 4 children. She also learned that there was a possibility that her family had survived and they could be living either in Canada or the USA.
Lia approached one of REFUNITE’s community leaders and told her story. Immediately, the leader called our Call Center team and ask for support.
REFUNITE’s Community Leader Network is a chain of more than 5,000 tribal community leaders spread across 100 refugee communities worldwide. REFUNITE works with these leaders to mobilize and communicate with last-mile populations. Using online and offline channels combined with the power of this community-based peer to peer network, REFUNITE is now able to provide more than 4.5 million people with essential information.
A REFUNITE community leader contacted his peers in North America and one of them replied saying that he knew Joseph, Lia’s father. He traveled from Ohio to Texas to talk with her father in person and collect his phone number.
It turns out that Lia’s parents and siblings had also fled to Burundi, but they had been in a different location – where more than 160 people in the Banyamulenge community were massacred in 2004. During that incident, they lost one of Lia’s brothers, who was six years old at the time. In 2006 her father went to the USA and later her mother and other siblings joined him in 2013.
On June 21st 2019, Lia talked to her father on the phone after 17 years of separation. He told her that he and the rest of the family thought she had died in 2002, and that he couldn’t believe that she was alive.
“Thank you for bringing back my daughter to life….That ‘s amazing she is really my first born Lia. She is still alive!! May God bless you REFUNITE.“, Joseph told our call center agent.