Grand Canyon Chapter Reunites Hutu Man with Tutsi Wife, Children

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It’s like writing a letter and putting it in a bottle, and you don’t know if it will be delivered. The bottle is the Red Cross.

PHOENIX (Sept. 5, 2013) – A Hutu farmer living in Zimbabwe recently discovered his Tutsi wife and his children in Arizona, thanks to help from the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter.

The couple last saw each other five years ago at a refugee camp in Zambia. The family had taken shelter at the camp to escape a civil war in Burundi, in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2005. The husband fled the camp, fearful he would be killed, as the Hutu and the Tutsi have targeted each other in a genocide that has resulted in more than a million deaths.

“She wasn’t sure her husband was alive. He didn’t tell her where he was going to protect the family,” said Vicente Baamonde, who oversees the Grand Canyon Chapter’s Restoring Family Links department, which tries to reconnect families that are separated by an armed conflict or a disaster.

The wife, who wants her family to remain anonymous, citing privacy concerns, asked the Grand Canyon Chapter for assistance in locating her husband, however, he covered his tracks so well, there wasn’t anything that could be done. The husband eventually contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross in Zimbabwe, then the ICRC contacted the Red Cross to start the husband’s search in the U.S., then the Grand Canyon Chapter was assigned to make the search in February.

“When I handed her his letter, she told me that this was the proof that her husband is alive,” Baamonde said. “They are very strong people. I could tell that. What they’ve been through, you can’t imagine. She didn’t cry, but I could tell, from her eyes, the intense feeling she was having.”

The Grand Canyon Chapter connected the husband with the ICRC, which is working to bring him to the U.S. “It’s like writing a letter and putting it in a bottle, and you don’t know if it will be delivered,” Baamonde said. “The bottle is the Red Cross.”

Over 2011 and 2012, the Grand Canyon Chapter ranked tops in the country among Red Cross chapters in reunification cases, with 257 of them, and several other cases are active. A search can be started simply by filling out a form and talking to a caseworker at the Grand Canyon Chapter’s headquarters, located at 6135 N. Black Canyon Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85015.

To learn about international humanitarian law, the public is invited to one of the Grand Canyon Chapter’s upcoming workshops, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and Nov. 2 at its headquarters. Registration is free of charge by visiting www.redcross.org/gcc.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. It’s a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. The Grand Canyon Chapter, established in 1916, re-chartered in 1999 and expanded in 2003, ranks as the fifth-largest chapter nationally, serving the more than 5.1 million people in Apache, Coconino, Gila, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties. For more information on the Grand Canyon Chapter, please visit www.redcross.org/gcc, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/redcrossgcc or follow us on Twitter under the handle @RedCrossGCC.