By Mike Pfeifer, International Services Volunteer
Mohamed Dahir Haji spoke of his older brother, Ahmed. “My brother was always a teacher to me.” Yet as boys, Mohamed, Ahmed, and the rest of their family fled war torn Somalia in the 1990s. They found their way to a refugee camp near Dadaab, Kenya, and later became separated for more than a decade.
Before their separation, Ahmed did what older brothers do. He taught his younger brother to play soccer. They went to school together. Together they sold bread in the local markets.
In 1999, the brothers were separated and sent to different refugee camps in Kenya. The Dadaab camp for refugees in Kenya may be the largest in the world. There are so many people displaced by violence and famine in the Horn of Africa, that the camp has been virtually divided into three small cities that shelter nearly 400,000 people.
While in a Kenyan camp, Mohamed married and graduated from high school. Then, he made the difficult decision to leave the camp and immigrate to the United States, leaving his brother behind in Kenya to care for their mother. With that decision, Mohamed lost all contact and had not seen or heard from his family in 12 years. That is until recently, when the Red Cross bridged that twelve-year absence. That’s when Ahmed reached out to the Red Cross, across the globe, in an effort to find his brother.
Using the global Red Cross network, the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program works to reconnect families separated by disaster, war or civil unrest. The program works both to find lost family members and to carry messages back and forth. After Ahmed reached out, the Red Cross network traced Mohamed back to the St. Louis area. Local Red Cross staff and volunteers located Mohamed and delivered a message from his brother Ahmed.
Mohamed read his message aloud. “I am your brother, Ahmed. I am greeting you with my best. If you’ve forgotten me, I have not forgotten you.” The messages are often brief, out of necessity, but a few words can fill a heart and span decades.
“He’s the one who convinced me to marry my wife,” Mohamed said. Mohamed and his wife, Mana, have seven children. His family in the Kenyan camp did not know these children existed, nor had they seen them. He knew exactly how he would reply. “We must send him pictures,” Mohamed said.
The family went through closets to put on their best clothes for pictures. Along with several family pictures, Mohamed sent a Red Cross Message (RCM) in response.
“My Dear Brother, I am hereby submitting my best greeting. Say, ‘Hi” to Mom and brothers and sister.” With a regular communication link established, the family regains the links that bind them and can enfold new members into the warmth that is family.
Separated individuals can contact a local Red Cross representative, which in turn will launch a cooperative international search. In the case of Ahmed’s search for Mohamed, the request went from a Red Cross representative in the refugee camp, to the Kenyan Red Cross, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, to the American Red Cross, and finally to the St. Louis Area Chapter of the Red Cross.
Through the Restoring Family Links program and the use of Red Cross Messaging, local international services staff and volunteers serve the diverse immigrant population of the St. Louis area. Individuals whose family connections have been severed by disaster, war, or civil unrest can contact the St. Louis Area Chapter of the American Red Cross at (314) 516-2800 for more information on initiating a search or sending a message.