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Kenya: Red Cross helps mother find son after 20 years

28-04-2008 Feature

With the signing of the peace agreement and the formation of a coalition government in Kenya, hopes are high that a solution will be found for the more than 170,000 people currently living in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. ICRC and KRCS (Kenyan Red Cross) tracing teams have reunited more than 120 families separated by the post-election violence. Anne Mucheke reports.

Ailing 17-year-old Keziah Nyaituga* sought refuge at the Ekerenyo IDP camp in Kisii town with her nine-month-old son after they fled their home following the post-election violence that hit Kenya earlier this year. At the camp located in western Kenya, her physical condition deteriorated prompting Red Cross officials to encourage her to be tested, whereupon she was confirmed to be HIV positive.

The officials arranged for her to be transferred to Nyamira District hospital, almost 30 kms away, but there was the question of who would take care of her baby when she was admitted.

 Successful search for family despite lack of information  

Due to her condition, Keziah's mental capacity had been hampered and she was unable to give the Kenyan Red Cross volunteers accurate details about her family. With the scanty information they had, the team set off in search of her family and managed to find them in Bonareri village in Kisii.

Keziah's uncle accompanied the team to the hospital to confirm that she was indeed his niece. Her nine-month-old baby was taken home and the grandmother accepted to take care of him as Keziah remained in the hospital. The family further requested the Red Cross to transfer her to Kisii district hospital, which is closer to their home. She is receiving treatment at the hospital to this day.

 Post-election violence brings message from long lost son  

Further north in Kisumu, Mama Okumbo would never have thought that the post-election violenc e would give her a chance to meet her long lost son Noah. One afternoon, she received a visit from Red Cross officials bearing a message from her son who is living at the Endebess IDP camp.

'' I am still shocked on hearing that my son is alive after all this time. He left home 20 years ago and we never heard from him again. In those years I lost my husband and eight of my children and I just believed that Noah was also dead,'' says a tearful Mama Okumbo.

Noah, who is now married and with a family of his own, was forced out of his Eldoret home in Rift Valley, and sought refuge at the nearby Endebess IDP camp. It was there that he learned about the tracing services of the Red Cross, which work to reunite families separated from each other, and sought their help in finding his long lost family.

He wrote a Red Cross message, informing his mother of his whereabouts and his recent predicament. Although it had been two decades since he was home, Noah gave the team directions to his parent's home, not sure they would find anyone living there.

The Red Cross teams faithfully delivered the message to his mother who now wants to meet her son.

'' I want the Red Cross to give me directions to Endebess so that I can confirm that this is my son and welcome him home with his family rather than they stay in camps, " said Mama Okumbo. " Now Noah has a home again. "

More than 170,000 people are currently living in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps.   About 100,000 others have been integrated in host homes but they all rely on relief food provided by the Red Cross.

 Many families still to be reunited  

Sadly, many families are yet to be reun ited with their loved ones. " Not knowing the whereabouts of missing family members, particularly children, can be a very traumatic experience, " says Caroline Rouvroy, the ICRC's protection coordinator in Nairobi. " That is why tracing is a basic Red Cross service in times of disaster or conflict anywhere in the world. "

ICRC and KRCS (Kenyan Red Cross) tracing teams have reunited more than 120 families separated by the post-election violence. Many more cases are pending with at least 400 tracing requests concerning minors alone received by the organization since the beginning of the year.

Sometimes it only takes a telephone call to find the loved ones, other times there is a lot of travel involved and it can take a while especially in the case of unaccompanied children. Many of the displaced people have no access to phones in the camp and the few with mobile phones do not have the money to call their relatives. With resources provided by the ICRC and the KRCS, people can get news about their loved ones.

 * Not her real name. Names have been changed to protect identity.