Rose Gonsa Minga and her family fled war-torn Congo seeking a better life. Instead, they were unexpectedly torn apart.
The family left the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) capital of Kinshasa on a grueling journey of more than 1,000 miles. Rose was pregnant for most of the journey. Once arrived in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, Rose was hospitalized due to complications, remaining there for six months. Unable to care for her two younger children, they stayed with friends. Her eldest daughter had remained back in the DRC awaiting instructions to rejoin the rest of the family.
It was during Rose’s hospital stay that she and her husband, Alpha Matunga, 42, lost contact with their oldest daughter. She instructed Papy to go find and bring their daughter to her, but tragically, soon after, Rose received news that both Papy and their daughter had died in a bus accident.
It took the family more than a year after that for Rose, her two children and her newborn to immigrate to the U.S., resettling in the Massachusetts city of Worcester. Months after her arrival, she learned through a family friend that her husband may not have been killed in the crash after all. But so many questions gnawed at her. Where was her husband? Where was her daughter? Were they both safe? Were they healthy?
One day in early 2017, Rose received a Red Cross Message. It was from her husband, who was alive and living in a refugee camp in Uganda.
Even more miraculous, Rose learned that her daughter, now 17, was staying in the very same camp and had just had a baby of her own.
Along with his message, Rose’s husband, Papy had enclosed a faded copy of their marriage certificate and an old photo of them taken years ago when they were living in Nairobi. Rose held her daughter, then a toddler, as Papy wrapped his arms around them both.
The message Rose received is part of a global Red Cross program that serves to bring families back together, if not physically, then emotionally. Sometimes the message is a simple, “I am alive.” The program helps to reconnect more than 100,000 families a year.
Messages destined for individuals in the U.S. go to the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. before being directed to a regional office and hand-delivered to the recipient, said Worcester Red Cross volunteer Trudy Epstein. Epstein visited Rose’s apartment three times before she was able to hand her the message.
“I always tell them I don’t know if it is good news or bad news,” Epstein said. “They always have the same immediate reaction: they put their hands to their hearts. It is life-changing for them.” Trudy explained that Rose did indeed put her hand to her heart when handed the envelope.
“I couldn’t believe that my husband and daughter were alive and together in the same place,” Rose, 35, said that snowy morning in her Worcester apartment, gently opening the worn message on her lap.
More than two million Congolese have fled their homes over than past 16 years due to mass executions, abductions and violence by rebel forces. The Nakivale settlement in Uganda, where Rose’s husband and daughter live, has more than 60,000 residents.
Now, Rose is hoping to bring her husband, daughter and grandchild to the U.S., a long and uncertain process. They have spoken on the phone, but it is very expensive. Papy still has not yet met his new son, who is now a toddler. In the meantime, Rose’s kids ask her every day, “When is daddy coming? Where is daddy?” Sometime it is almost too much to bear, she says.
“I pray to God every day that we will be together again,” she said. “But I’m so glad to know they are both alive.”