“We could not rest until we found her family.”

After 15 years, Rwandan social workforce reunites Kariza with her mother

By Bercar Nzabagerageza
28 November 2019

KIGALI, Rwanda – When Kariza was separated from her mother at just one year old, a nun brought her to an orphanage. Since 2015, the government social workforce tried to trace her relatives, but the nun would not provide any information on Kariza’s family.

Fortunately for Kariza, Rwanda’s social workforce refused to give up.

In 2012, Rwanda’s Tubarerere mu Muryango programme was established with support from UNICEF with funding from USAID/DCOF.

Tubarerere mu Muryango established a cadre of social workers and psychologists, trained to ensure that children like Kariza can grow up in a nurturing family. Social workers and psychologists under Tubarerere mu Muryango place children from institutions back into families and prevent family separation.

Florence Umutesi is one of these social workers.

“Kariza’s case was one of the most complicated I have managed,” said Florence.

At 13, Kariza was finally placed from the orphanage into a foster family. But Florence and her colleagues were not satisfied.

“We could not rest until we found Kariza’s family.”

Florence Umutesi, social worker
Florence Umutesi presents Kariza's case at a conference for Rwandan social workers and partners.
National Commission for Children/2019
Florence Umutesi presents Kariza's case at a conference for Rwandan social workers and partners.

 

As time flew by, Florence began feeling frustrated. But good news came from her colleagues in another district who met a woman named Josephine, traumatised by sexual assault and separated from her children years before.

“We normally share cases with our Tubarerere mu Muryango colleagues in other districts. It helps us trace more families,” said Florence. She smiled. “We were so happy to discover that Josephine was Kariza’s mother.”

Florence began preparing Josephine for reunification with Kariza. With tears in her eyes, Josephine finally met her daughter for the first time in 15 years.

“All I wanted was to see her again,” said Josephine, smiling between hugs with her daughter.

The efforts of social workers like Florence have paid off. Kariza has nearly finished her secondary studies, and during each holiday break, she returns home from boarding school to her mother’s love and embrace, and the joy of having found her family.

 

 

The names of Kariza and her family have been changed to protect their identities.

The Tubarerere mu Muryango programme is made possible in part by funding from the United States Agency for International Development Displaced Children’s and Orphan Fund, (USAID/DCOF), implemented by the Government of Rwanda with support from UNICEF and civil society organisations.