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Rwanda: a young girl and her grandmother find each other at last

12-05-2009 Feature

After more than 10 years of a long and painful separation from her parents because of war, a young girl found her grandmother, thanks to an ICRC radio announcement.



  Since 1994, the ICRC has reunited nearly 14,345 unaccompanied Rwandan children with their families in Rwanda. Unfortunately, in recent years the prevailing situation in the region has led to the separation of more children from their families.  

  Since 2005:

  • 383 unaccompanied Rwandan children have been registered by the ICRC;
  • 604 individuals, including many children who had been registered before 2005, were reunited with their families;
  • the organization has been seeking to reunite 361 other children with their families.

  To strengthen its tracing network, the ICRC signed a partnership agreement with the Rwandan Red Cross in 2002. The partnership has made it possible to distribute over 17,000 Red Cross messages (RCM) and collect more than 9,000 since 2006.

In 2008, the two institutions continued their collaboration, notably in boosting the capacity to collect and distribute RCMs, and trace members of families separated as a result of conflicts in the region.    


Musabye* was just three years old when she was separated from her family in Rwanda during the 1994 war, and ended up in the care of a host family in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she lived as a refugee. In 1996, she returned to Rwanda with her foster family, but all this time she had no information to help her find her relatives. Then at 17 and while in prison in Rwanda, she finally met her grandmother, thanks to the family tracing activities carried out by the ICRC.

It all started in April 2008 when Musabye talked to an ICRC delegate, who visited her in prison, and expressed her desire to find a member of her family. She provided the delegate with some information which might help in identifying and locating the village where she came from. The ICRC went in search of her relatives although it only had scanty information to rely on.


  ©ICRC / U. Meissner / RW-D-00041-05    
  Kigali. A young girl looks at photos of unaccompanied children who are looking for their parents.    

With only limited information available to it, the ICRC had just one realistic option: a public announcement in the media. It contacted local radio stations immediately and requested them to broadcast Musabye’s name and the little that was known about her, in the hope that someone would come forward with information that might lead to her family. It took four months to get any lead.

In August 2008, Anne-Marie, a 70-year-old mother contacted the ICRC to say she wanted to meet Musabye. On December 11, 2008, after several routine checks, Anne-Marie finally paid her first visit to the young girl, who turned out to be her granddaughter.

Accompanied by an ICRC staff member, she travelled over 200 kilometres to reach the prison where the young Musabye was detained. Tired and anxious, but happy to have made the journey, Anne-Marie finally entered the prison walls. After the usual formalities, she sat on a chair and waited. In the building across from her, a prison guard was getting Musabye out of her cell. A few minutes later, the latter timidly crossed the prison courtyard and headed to the main building where Anne-Marie was waiting for her.

As soon as she crossed the hall, Musabye threw herself into her grandmother’s arm s. Finally, for the first time in years, she could hug a loved one. As for the grandmother, the expression of her face said it all. The two hugged each other for a long

time, then Anne-Marie thanked the ICRC official who had accompanied her.

Soon it was time to part again. Without saying a word, Musabye and her grandmother looked each other in the eye for several minutes. Then the older woman exclaimed, " What a miracle! This was made possible by the grace of God! "

On returning to her prison cell, Musabye expressed her impatience to complete her sentence and rejoin her family.

 * Not her real name