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Angola - Madalena's long wait

28-05-2003 Feature

Seven-year-old Madalena was abruptly separated from her parents one morning in February 2001. She had strayed from her family's hut in the village of Malange when fighting suddenly broke out all around her.

 


  Madalena aboard an ICRC-chartered plane heading back to Kuito.
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Pushed and shoved by the fleeing crowd, she could not find her way back home and was carried off by UNITA troops. Madalena's parents had come to Malange some time earlier, with their five children, after fleeing Kuito.

 

  The little girl's eyes slowly lit up as she began to reconnect with her former life.
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Eighteen months after Madalena's disappearance, her mother, Jacinta Nene, who had managed to return to Kuito after the signing of the April 2002 peace accord, filed a tracing request with the ICRC office in the city. With the help of Angola Red Cross volunteers, the ICRC combed the province of Malange where the little girl had disappeared. After several months of searching, they fo und Madalena living in a camp for demobilized UNITA soldiers.

In May 2003, more than years after being separated from her family, Madalena found herself aboard an ICRC-chartered plane heading back to Kuito. Quiet and serious, she stared into the distance and had nothing to say about her ordeal. All that she had been through, the fleeing, the fighting, the months of separation, the feelings of fear and solitude she had endured far away from her family – all this had been too much for the little girl. When the ICRC delegate accompanying her explained that she would be seeing her mother again in a few hours, she just looked at her, uncomprehending.

But at Kuito airport, when her mother, laughing and crying, swept Madalena up into her arms, something changed. The little girl's eyes slowly lit up as she began to reconnect with her former life. Once her mother had hoisted her up onto her back, like any other nine-year-old , a timid smile gradually spread across the girl's face for the first time since she had embarked on her journey home.

 
 

  A timid smile gradually spread across the girl's face for the first time since she had embarked on her journey home.
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As for Jacinta, she was torn between the joy she felt at being reunited with Madalena and despair over the horrors she had experienced since her daughter had disappeared: Madalena's father and two of her siblings had been killed in the fighting, and her other brother and sister had disappeared. Jacinta didn't know how to break the news to Madalena. Finally, she decided that for just one day she would think only of rejoicing and of her new-found hope – the hope that Madalena's return had brought of finding her two other missing children, whom the ICRC and the Angolan Red Cross were still looking for.

Madalena is one of 371 unaccompanied children whom the ICRC has reunited with their families in the past year.