Cedric and his younger brother were born to Burundian parents and raised in the North Kivu district in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
During their early years, Cedric’s cousin Yolanda would occasionally visit them in DRC. Sadly, Cedric’s parents passed away when they were very young; he doesn’t even remember the year it happened.
Despite the 14-year age difference between the cousins, Cedric has many fond memories of Yolanda’s visits. The loss of Cedric’s parents was preceded by very desperate times for the younger brothers, during which their neighbor stepped in to help raise them.
While in their neighbor’s care, the boys recounted how they were mistreated and endured a lot of hardship. As they grew older, they would do sales jobs for the neighbor, in exchange for their upkeep. It is during this time that the boys lost touch with their cousin Yolanda, who was the only other direct family member they knew.
DRC has been struggling with ongoing conflict for the past two decades. The country’s eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Katanga, and Orientale are most affected by the conflicts.
As of November 2014, an estimated 2.6 million Congolese were internally displaced, and nearly 500,000 had fled their homes into neighboring Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
In January 2014, their neighbor and primary caregiver decided to relocate to Uganda and took the brothers along with him. They continued to work for him but life became harder and more unbearable.
Cedric, who was now 18 years old, made the decision to run away with his younger brother. They managed to make their way from Uganda to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where they arrived in July 2014. They were now thrust into a life of displacement and uncertainty.
Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County of the northwestern region of Kenya. It was established in 1992 and is home to more than 180,000 refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda.
At the reception center in Kakuma, Cedric learned of the REFUNITE family reconnection platform from Bahera who works as a volunteer on the mobile outreach programme lead by REFUNITE and Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) in Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Bahera explained how the mobile search tool works and helped Cedric start his search for his missing cousin Yolanda.
As luck would have it, his cousin Yolanda, who was now living in America, had also reported Cedric as a missing relative on REFUNITE’s platform. Based on her search criteria, Cedric received a message from Yolanda. She was able to confirm his identity, his name, tribe, country of origin, parents’ names, and more.
She responded with a message in Kirundi inquiring his whereabouts and that of his younger brother. After a few validation messages back and forth between Yolanda and Cedric, they were able to confirm their relation.
The long lost cousins had finally found each other with support from KRCS and REFUNITE.
Now that Ceric has found his cousin Yolanda, he hopes that she may be able to connect them to other relatives. Cedric and his younger brother are are both dreaming of an education, as well as successful and peaceful lives in future.
The cousins remain connected via telephone and hope they will someday meet in person.
KRCS provides a free phone service that allows refugees to connect with their loved ones. They get two minutes of free airtime per month.
Cedric recounts, “The best part about being reconnected with our cousin, is knowing that we are not alone, that we have other relatives around the world who care and want to find us.”
By Kalson Abdi
ABOUT THE INTERVIEW
For security reasons, all names have been changed to protect the interviewees.
The above interview took place in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. It was conducted in French with translation by Bahera Musemi who works for REFUNITE and KRCS in the camp. Representatives from REFUNITE and KRCS participated in the interview.
Kalson Abdi, Campaign and Partnership Specialist for REFUNITE (email@example.com)