The Reunion



Uwiringine Philippe har måttet gjøre sitt fornøydne underveis mot Kitchanga




Some stories make a bigger impression than others. This is one of the most touching and beautiful features we have ever made. It all started back home in Norway in front of the computer. I think it was BBC online that had a short article about how the International Red Cross Committee ICRC had a family reunion program in East Congo. Ever since the Rwanda genocide in 1994 various guerrilla groups have been fighting each other and terrorising civilians in the border-areas of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Rwanda. The fighting has taken more than 4 million lives, and has split and destroyed countless families. We have to get to Congo to cover this family reunion program, I told Otto on the phone. –Sure, he answered. No further persuasion needed.

I remember us sitting in the plane to Africa a few weeks later talking about the fantastic job the ICRC does, bringing family members back together again. Naturally, we thought, the chances of us ever being able to report from an actual reunion were slimmer than slim.

Three days later we find ourselves inside a white Land Cruicer with a big, red cross on the hood, heading north with two kids sitting next to us. Vita (14) and his sister, Uwiringine (11) are being transported home to their parents after two years of separation. The parents were found by a Red Cross volunteer. The man is equipped with a bicycle and a stack of pictures of orphaned children. His job is to cycle around in the countryside showing pictures to people hoping that someone will recognise the kids and provide information about their parents. Last week he was lucky. A farmer almost fainted when he saw the faces of his long lost son and daughter among the pictures of orphans. After that things have been happening fast. The parents are told to meet us in the village of Kirumbu – which is as close as we can get to their village by car. So here we are bumping our way to a rendezvous that will change the lives of everyone involved.

–We were sure mom and dad got killed that day, Vita tells us. My sister and I were in the house cooking and our parents were working in the field when the shooting began. Shooting means soldiers and everyone is terrified of the armed men who are roaming the area looking for victims to rob or rape.

The boy tells us how he fled the house clutching his sister’s hand. They kept running until they couldn’t hear any more shooting. Too scared to return the siblings started a two month walk. They moved at night and hid during the day. Stole food in the fields and struggled their way to town, were they thought someone might be willing to help them. When they finally reached the province capital, Goma, they were taken care of by a family in one of the refugee camps. The refugee woman who should be their mother for the next two years felt sorry for the two and persuaded her husband to give the skinny and dirty kids food and shelter. She must have done great job, because right now they look neither skinny nor dirty.

–My heart is pounding so hard I can hardly hear my own thoughts, Vita says and smiles at his sister. She smiles back. We’re almost there. Five minutes later the driver stops the car in a small village, where a group of people are gathered.

The kids run out and throw themselves in the arms of their parents while the entire village is watching. It is hard to find words that fully describes this scene. I think it is better to leave that part of the story to Otto’s pictures and your imagination.

A few minutes, and a few tears (some of them mine) later things calm down a bit. Nikuze Chemuli and her husband Philippe Kasereka can’t believe how lucky they are.

–I have been praying for this day to come ever since the soldiers came and forced us to flee, Nikuze says, stroking her daughters hair.

–But I never really believed I would see them again.

We would like to talk more to the family, but Philippe is starting to pack up his things. Their village is almost three hours walk away through the forest, and they need to get going if they want to make it back before the sun sets. It’s strange to watch the kids leave with their family. What will the future bring for them?

26 Responses to “The Reunion”

  1. […] For the full story look up Øystein & Otto’s Blog. […]

  2. Oh! Those smiles!!!

  3. They are rich again! and so is everyone who witnessed this beautiful reunion.

  4. A story of hope indeed. What a privelege to share such a moment.

  5. My goodness, what a beautiful story.
    Thank you both for sharing it here.

  6. Wonderful story with a happy outcome. I guess it is hard to know what the future may bring but for now they are back together.
    Thanks for this report.

  7. Really moving. Thanks so much for bringing us this story so vividly.

  8. victoriaaphotographyictoria Says:

    What a fantastic story (and great images too).

  9. Marianne Fresjarå Abdalla Says:

    Wonderful story and pictures – thank you!

  10. It’s so wonderful to see a happy story coming out of all that misery. Here’s to wishing that the kids and family live the rest of their lives in peace and happiness!

  11. My tears of joy easily express my feelings after reading their story and seeing the photographs. THANK YOU for your going beyond your own needs to witness such an extraordinary event.

  12. It is wonderful that you got to witness a happy ending. You have shared so many tragic tales that this one moment of happiness in magnified tenfold. Beautiful.

  13. This is an incredible story and proves that there are good people in this world such as the couple that took the kids in. Beautiful images.

  14. Great story and fantastic images!

  15. Thank you for documenting what is possible in what seems like the impossible. Camera lens open, hearts wide open….peace…

  16. I feel honored to even read this story! I felt tears just hearing of the reunion. I can’t even imagine witnessing it. I have never before heard of this wonderful reunification program in East Congo. How marvelous to think that there are other stories like this that have happy endings in a region so accustomed to only tragedy. The photos round out such a happy story. I am so glad to have heard this tonight.

  17. winsomebella Says:

    A heroic and touching story—and the pictures are wonderful as always. Thank you.

  18. What an amazing story, how lucky you were to be able to be there, and how lucky we are that you have shared it with us. Thank you!

  19. The image of someone riding around on a bicycle trying to identify lost families is an amazing one. In the end, how lucky were these two!

  20. Amazing and important story. The world becomes a better place by people like you chasing down stories like this!

  21. Touching and heart-rending account. The story and photos show the gamut of feelings. I’m very happy for this family. You and Otto have done a good job and are a good team.

  22. why, too happy an occasion – in the photos and in the narration. your story has a heart and it’s beating fast. 🙂 warm regards…

  23. The smiles are priceless! Thank you for sharing this!

  24. What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it with us! z

  25. A beautiful series of images and a retelling of the story that really grabs the reader’s attention. Nice to see the happy ending!

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