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An unexpected twist: Mulumderwa's story

08-06-2008 Feature

Years of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have torn families apart, forcing people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. The ICRC works closely with National Red Cross Societies, supporting refugee camps and tracing services to bring people together again. For some, years of despair can turn to happiness in an instant.


  ©ICRC/M. Sithole    
  Tongogara refugee camp, Zimbabwe. Domina, Tendilonga and Mulumderwa in a warm embrace.    

Only a few more metres and they would arrive at the camp. Mulumderwa's feet were swollen as she and her husband made their way up the dusty road to Tongogara refugee camp.

She had heard that many other people from her country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC ), were living there. She longed to find a quiet place to lie down and rest. On arrival at the camp, a few people gathered round to welcome them. Having travelled the long journey themselves, they understood the exhausting experience the young couple had endured.

Mulumderwa looked down at her round belly and smiled. Her unborn baby was kicking as if to express its happiness at arriving at the place that would become its first home.

Among the crowd of well-wishers she suddenly recognized someone she never expected to be there. " Domina! " she exclaimed in disbelief. Within seconds the two sisters were embracing one another. Moments later they were joined by another sister, Tendilonge, who had noticed the crowd growing around them. Mulumderwa could barely speak because of the overwhelming emotional relief she felt. Separated nine years earlier by the civil war in the DRC, she had given up hope of ever seeing her sisters again.

Further joyful and unexpected reunions were to follow not long after Mulumderwa's arrival when six youngsters arrived at the camp with their own story to tell.

Fighters had attacked their town, Goma, in the DRC while their mother was being cared for in a nearby hospital. With no time to send for their mother, they immediately fled from the fighting. The eldest among them, twenty-year-old Magarite, led her siblings to Lake Tanganyika, where they took a canoe to Mpulungu in Zambia. From there a truck carried them to the border with Zimbabwe and onward to Harare and finally to Tongogara refugee camp.

On hearing their story, Domina inquired about the children's names and quickly realized that they were the children of another sister. She had not recognized them earlier because the last time she saw them they were toddlers. Relieved that they were safe and astonished by their bravery, she embraced them as she identified herself. D omina took the children under her wing and is now their guardian in the camp. Sadly, the children do not know the fate of their mother.

See also the article entitled: Zimbabwe: a long journey of hope to reunion .