Arnold and Judith Nshombo are Fidel’s younger brother and sister. Arnold is currently 17 and Judith is 19 years old. They were separated from the family when they were 6 and 8 years old. Soldiers raided their village in Bukavu, Congo, broke into their home and started assaulting their parents. An older sister ran out of the house with Arnold and Judith, and the three of them ran from their village. A day later, soldiers caught up with them, took the older sister and told Arnold and Judith to run. That was the start of more than a decade on their own without their family. For several years they lived in Goma, Congo with a minister who had them do work around his church. They worked in his church in return for his food and shelter. When the minister moved to another country, he drove Arnold and Judith to the Congo-Uganda border and told them to try and find a church in Uganda to help them. They eventually got to a church that sent them to a refugee camp there in Uganda.
In 2007 the Red Cross found them and through an amazing program they have, determined that they might have a
relative in Boise, ID. They contacted Fidel. When Fidel first made contact they were confused and suspicious about who he was. They were so young when they last saw him and so much time had passed. Eventually, he earned their trust and he sent them money to move out of the refugee camp. The camp offered them no education or healthcare and Fidel worried that it was a dangerous place for kids to be. They rented a room in Kampala with no running water. That was their life when I became aware of them about a year ago. They remain in Kampala, but a lot has changed since then.
In the Fall o 2008 Arnold started emailing me. Fidel had given him my email address and suggested he practice his English by writing me. I fell in love with this kid in about 2 emails! He attached himself to me quickly too, as his emails addressed me as “Mama” within the first week of writing me. Like Fidel, Arnold has a wonderful way with words. I immediately felt connected to Arnold and Judith’s life in Kampala – and I knew they needed help. What future did they have alone in Kampala? Fidel had looked into getting them to the U.S. and there were not any avenues to bring siblings. We needed to think both short term and long term for them. In the short term we needed to find them a safe place to live and try to offer them an education. In the long term, we needed to look at where and how they could have a future with the ability to sustain themselves. We were in the throes of trying to answer these questions when things changed dramatically in their life.
November 24th, 2008. Arnold emailed Fidel and me that he had received a correspondence from the Red Cross saying his parents may be alive along with some younger siblings in a “camp for displaced persons” in Rwanda. Arnold and Fidel were doubtful about the claim after so many years. Arnold was certain they could not have survived the violence in their home the last time he saw them over a decade ago. He sent a message back to the Red Cross with his cell phone number but suspected it would turn out to be someone other than his parents.
Meanwhile, Fidel called another brother in Rwanda with whom he has had very little contact, but whom he knew was alive. He told his brother about the email from Arnold and asked him to try and help locate them. On Thanksgiving Day Fidel got a call from his brother in Rwanda. He had in fact located their parents, 2 younger siblings and 2 younger cousins all in a refugee camp in Kigali, Rwanda! The parents were equally thrilled to learn about Fidel, Arnold and Judith’s survival, and decided to set out for Kampala, Uganda immediately.
The details are sketchy but Fidel says they probably walked out of the camp without telling anyone (so as not to be
stopped) and found a low security place to cross the border from Rwanda into Uganda. Just a few days later, however, we got an amazing phone call.
The first message we got that day was a text message from Arnold: “I prepare myself to go to the park to meet my
family.” Several hours later came another text message: “Hi Mama, can you imagine what joy we have after 10 yrs of separation we meet again with our family, this is the happiness day in our life.” (Let me tell you, that was a world class day in my life too!).
A few hours after that, my phone rang. Arnold had called from Kampala and insisted that I talk to every member of the family, many of whom I had to dust off my college French to speak with, and it was joyous! (Sadly, Fidel works days and was asleep during this first call!). Their joy just enveloped me and I think we were all jumping up and down at our respective ends of the conversation! The only thing that could have increased the joy would have been if Fidel could have been in Kampala with them to experience it first hand.
Fidel’s chance to talk with them came the next day. His overwhelming happiness was mixed with understandable apprehension. What do you say to the parents you haven’t talked to in 10 years, and whom until very recently you feared might not still be alive?
Read about the ongoing developments in this amazing family’s life in our blog archives. The latest update is always
on this blog’s “Front Page”.