Story by Katie Lindel Restoring Family Links Volunteer, Chicago and Northern Illinois Region and Sydney Rais-Sherman, Associate, Program Management and Campus LEAD
The search for Daniel, an Ethiopian man living in Chicago, which started with a letter from his nephew Jemal, who was staying in a Kenyan refugee camp. My name is Sydney and I’m a new Red Cross employee and a participant in Campus LEAD, a leadership development rotational program. I am working in Chicago for my first rotation and am going to share the story of Michelle and Katie’s search for Daniel, along with the news that Jemal was desperately trying to get to his family in the U.S.
Katie, an AmeriCorps volunteer, started the summer with her second Restoring Family Links (RFL) case assignment - to deliver a Red Cross Message (RCM) in Chicago. An RCM is one of several services provided by RFL paid and volunteer staff around the word. These open faced letters contain family news and sometimes photos of loved ones. Although we live in the age of Skype, WhatsApp, and other messaging services, RCMs are still a critical means of family connection for those who have been forcibly separated from their homes and loved ones.
According to a search from our National Headquarters office, we believed that Daniel was likely still in the Chicago area. Katie, who was working with the RFL Program Manager, Michelle, reviewed the data to locate Daniel in Chicago. However, the phone number provided was inactive, Google searches didn’t return any promising leads, and the only social media presence was a possible match with a Twitter account that had not been updated since 2015. Even visits to any last known residences came up cold.
With no remaining former residences to visit, they pursued another search method: reaching out to Chicago’s Ethiopian community for help. Chicago is home to some incredible Ethiopian restaurants, all of which are owned and managed by individuals from Ethiopia who have made Chicago their home. Not only do these restaurants offer delicious cuisine, but they offer a place for members of the Ethiopian community to congregate. The first two Ethiopian restaurants Michelle and Katie visited did not recognize Daniel’s name, but eagerly agreed to post an RFL flyer in their restaurant. They promised to call if they found anyone who could assist us in finding Daniel. The Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago also did not recognize Daniel, but took a flyer in hopes that Daniel would attend an upcoming event. Katie started to have concerns that the case would not succeed after so many unsuccessful attempts of contact.
It wasn’t until Katie and Michelle visited the Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant that their attempts to gain contact prevailed. When they walked in they were greeted with an aroma of mouthwatering food , a large group of friends sitting and talking over lunch, and bright paintings lining the walls. Katie and Michelle approached the owner and shared with him their story and mission to find Daniel. The owner did not know Daniel and just as they thought the owner was telling them he couldn’t help, he looked over our RFL program flyer and replied, “Okay, I will find him. I know almost everyone here from Ethiopia. When I find him, I will call you.” In that moment, Michelle and Katie knew it was only a matter of time until they received a call from Daniel at the office.
Less than two weeks later, Daniel called the Red Cross and confirmed his identity. He said he had been visiting Ethiopia while we were looking for him and explained that as soon as he returned many people in the Ethiopian community had called him saying the Red Cross were looking for him. Daniel said he called to find out how he could help as soon as he got back to Chicago. We soon learned that Daniel was a person who was always looking for ways to help others. Katie set up a meeting for Daniel to come to the Red Cross office where he found out that his nephew was alive and safe. We then began to work through what steps he could take to help Jemal now that he knew of his whereabouts.
Although the search process can be difficult and challenging at times, it brings you moments of success that change lives and reconnect families. It was exciting and rewarding to connect with and learn more about Chicago’s Ethiopian community through visiting local restaurants and meeting owners and employees. Michelle and Katie’s efforts to locate Daniel resulted in informing the Chicago Ethiopian community of how RFL can truly aid in the search for a missing loved one.
To find out how Restoring Family Links can help you or someone you know, contact your local Red Cross- the critical link in your community to the global Red Cross network.
*Names changed to protect privacy