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Texas Woman Returns to Haiti and Her Family


With help from the American Red Cross and its partners, a Texas woman has finally been reunited her family nearly one year after the country’s devastating earthquake.

Earlier this spring, Andrea Sainvil, a blind 62-year-old Haitian native, lay in a hospital bed at the Northeast Baptist Hospital in San Antonio somewhat unresponsive and in a foggy state after suffering a stroke. Sainvil remained hospitalized for more than four months, and as her condition improved, caretakers turned to the American Red Cross to help find relatives who might be able to assist with her outpatient care.

Sainvil had moved to the United States 15 years prior and had always kept in touch with her family back home. That changed when Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010 and they lost contact.

Locating people and reconnecting them with their relatives is a major undertaking and priority for the American Red Cross and its nearly 650 chapters across the United States. This work includes locating missing loved ones, seeking to clarify the fate of those who remain missing, reuniting families and exchanging messages between relatives separated in emergencies.

Finding people in a country that has been eroded by disaster, violence and poverty can be an arduous campaign especially when communications systems are disrupted and the sought people are displaced from their homes.

“It’s a grassroots sort of search where we’re looking in communities, we’re asking community members, (and) we’re going into the field searching for people by foot, by bicycle, by Red Cross vehicle in order to really get into the community and see if we can locate family members,” said Lisa Ghali, a caseworker with the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

Podcast: Lisa Ghali Listen to a an interview with Lisa Ghali, one of the American Red Cross caseworkers who helped locate Andrea Sainvil’s missing relatives, and learn more about her recent visit to Haiti to follow up on the case.

With the help of two Red Cross volunteers also of Haitian heritage and living in Texas serving as translators, the caseworkers obtained vital information including Sainvil’s last known address in Haiti. With these details, the Red Cross dispatched teams on the ground, one of which visited families near her former home and serendipitously found two of Sainvil’s sisters, some cousins and a nephew.

Almost immediately, the American Red Cross organized a phone call between Sainvil in the US and her sister in Haiti. It was unforgettable for both sides of the line.

“She just lit up when she was talking to her sister,” said Angie Deluna, a Red Cross caseworker in San Antonio, who helped coordinate the call and initiate the tracing process.

Soon after, the hospital was able to arrange for Sainvil to travel and be physically reunited with her family in Haiti. It also provided health supplies, including a bed, wheelchair and leg brace, and arranged for five staff members to escort her there.

“It was a very emotional reunion,” said Theresa Coronado, a member of the team who accompanied Sainvil on her journey home. “Her sisters were so glad to see her. Ms. Sainvil’s demeanor looked so much more vibrant as we left. She was holding her grandnephew and was very much at peace and happy to be home.”

Ghali, one of the Red Cross caseworkers who worked tirelessly to reconnect Sainvil with her family, traveled to Haiti shortly after this reunion to check on her wellbeing and see firsthand how she was thriving surrounded by loved ones and with the assistance of medications provided by the Red Cross.

“It’s not often that we actually get to see the other side, where the family has already been connected,” said Ghali. “Often times we’re able to facilitate that communication, but we don’t get to see the end result. I was extremely happy and extremely excited to hold her hand and to be able to connect with her.”

Over the course of many months and many phone calls, volunteers in Haiti and the United States have successfully reunited 2,500 families like the Sainvils.

If you have been separated from your immediate family due to war or disaster, please contact your local American Red Cross chapter to inquire about the Restoring Family Links program. Currently, the Red Cross supports messaging and tracing programs in more than 18 conflict-affected countries and other disaster zones. Additionally, if you would like to volunteer as an interpreter or caseworker in your local community, learn more at www.redcross.org/familylinks.