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Family reunion brings tears of joy to beleaguered West Darfur

18-06-2007 Feature

Howeyda Abdullah Awadh is a shy fifteen-year-old girl with a gorgeous smile. She had plenty to smile about at a recent family reunion in West Darfur. The ICRC's Ayman Alshehabi reports from Al Geneina.

  Howeyda Abdullah Awadh at the ICRC sub-delegation in Al Geneina, West Darfur.    
  Howeyda arrives for the momentous reunion with her family.    
  Howeyda's family celebrating her return with tears of joy.    

Howeyda is from the Tama tribe and has been living in the town of Al Geneina in West Darfur for a long time.

Howeyda's father passed away when she was very young. She lived with her aunt who had taken on the responsibility of caring for the girl. Life was not easy. She often longed to play with other children in the street but was not able to because of the endless chores required of her by her aunt. These had to be done – it was a matter of survival.    


One day in September 2003, Howeyda decided to visit her mother in Zalingei, a considerable distance from Al Geneina. The moment that she arrived, internal fighting broke out, scattering families to safer locations outside of the city. Howeyda became frightened and confused, wondering what to do as no one came to pick her up. Fortunately, one family saw the desperation in the girl's eyes and grabbed her hand, taking her with them as they escaped from the bloodshed caused by the opposing forces, in anticipation of reaching a secure shelter.

Al Sadeq, an elderly man, adopted Howeyda in Zalingei, taking care of her as one of his own daughters. Meanwhile, Howeyda's family in Al Geneina waited anxiously for her or any news of her whereabouts. After some time, they thought that Howeyda had certainly died in the conflict. They held a funeral ceremony for the missing girl. Those attending were overcome with grief.

 Waves of happiness  

In November 200 4, Al Sadeq approached the ICRC office in Zalingei with the hope of finding Howeyda's family. The ICRC tracing agency is responsible for locating missing people displaced due to internal conflict and reuniting them with their families. They launched an intensive search and in March 2006, the agency located Howeyda's family in Al Geneina.

Howeyda’s mother was overcome with tears and staggering joy, " I can't believe you found Howeyda. I thought she was dead. I want her back, I want to hold her, " she gushed.

On 26 April 2007, after one year of communicating through Red Cross messages until it was possible for them to be reunited, an ICRC staff member accompanied Howeyda from Zalingei to Al Geneina in the ICRC plane, and she was at last reunited with her family.

The reunification was an incredible moment, full of emotion, tears and joy. Howeyda's mother was in shock. All her immediate family, relatives and many neighbours anxiously awaited her arrival and were overcome with waves of happiness, grateful beyond words that Howeyda had not died.

Mr Hicham Mandoudi, head of the ICRC's Al Geneina sub-delegation, attended the family reunion. " This is a fine example of good work and a happy ending. It is a great moment when a mother is reunited with her daughter after years of separation, " said Mandoudi.

Howeyda was speechless, and sought the comfort of a seat between her mother and aunt. Her aunt was waving her shawl with one hand and covering her mouth with the other, crying with joy.

" The ICRC informed us that they had found her, " said her aunt. " I could not believe it, and now she is here with us and we will stay together. "