In 1996, the Congolese village Uvira– like many other villages during the DRC War – was attacked. It was the Munyamulenge tribe that was being targeted by an unidentified armed group from the Murundi tribe, who were looking for young boys to join their rebel army, slaughtering people mercilessly on their way.
Early that morning, Estelle* had gone to fetch some water for her family and five children. When she returned to the village, women, men and children were in total panic. The rebel soldiers were drunk or under the influence of drugs, showing no mercy when raiding the village and torturing the people. Estelle immediately knew that the only option she had was to run for her life. She managed to get her children who were at a neighbor’s house, but had to leave both her parents and siblings behind, including her cousin Patricia*, who had always been like a sister to her.
Estelle followed a crowd of people that were running away towards a forest. The group kept walking for hours, and Estelle remembers how her children were hungry and how blisters were soon hurting her bare feet. The people around her were talking about a place called Tanzania and kept saying it was safe. Estelle had no idea about where they were going. After a few days, she crossed lake Tanganyika with her children and they arrived in Tanzania.
2 years later, Estelle returned to Uvira with her children to try and find her parents, but nobody knew where they had gone. She was told that they had fled to the North of the country to some mountains.
Shortly after, another war started and the Murundi soldiers returned again. Estelle was beaten and tortured several times. She and her children had to flee again, this time to Burundi and, eventually, Kenya. Estelle and her children settled in the refugee neighborhood Kasarani in Nairobi, where, one day in 2012, Estelle heard about Refugees United at a community forum.
She was assisted to register onto the Refugees United platform and started the search for her family. Recognizing details and nicknames of her lost ‘sister’ Patricia, she contacted her via the Refugees United platform and the girls exchanged phone numbers. They found out that we were living only 5 km away from each other.
Reunited after 16 years of separation, the ‘sisters’ continue to use the Refugees United platform to search for the rest of their missing family. Until now, they still do not know what has happened to them – but having found each other has brought them confidence and keeps their hope alive of someday finding their entire family.
* All names have been changed by Refugees United to protect the identity of the individuals.