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Red Cross Caseworker Finds Refugee's Lost Family and a New Friend
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Oana Odean, American Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter
May 4, 2009

On May 8, the American Red Cross will join with the other 185 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from around the globe to celebrate World Red Cross Red Crescent Day. The following story is part of a series, leading up to the observance and demonstrating the connection between your local American Red Cross chapter and the humanitarian work being done overseas by the American Red Cross, other national societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Revekka Glinberg, American Red Cross caseworker, meets one of her international tracing clients for the first time, months after she helped Julienne (right) locate her missing nieces in Tanzania. Photo Credit: Bian Li
Revekka Glinberg, American Red Cross caseworker, meets one of her international tracing clients for the first time, months after she helped Julienne (right) locate her missing nieces in Tanzania.
Photo Credit: Bian Li

In her 12 years with the American Red Cross Greater Chicago Chapter, Revekka Glinberg has met only a handful of her clients face-to-face.

As an international family tracing caseworker, Glinberg helps people in the Chicagoland area locate or discover the fate of their loved ones during and after war, civil conflict or natural disaster.  Most of her work is done by phone or written correspondence in the quiet of her cubicle.

“It’s very much a behind-the-scenes job,” Glinberg said. “But it’s the biggest reward when I achieve results after months or even years of searching for a long-lost family member.”

Revekka has always been passionate about helping people.  Being a Russian refugee herself, she knows from experience how difficult it is to be isolated and separated from family members. 

“I believe the most important thing in life is to be in contact with family and friends, and that’s why I do what I do,” she added.

Most recently, Glinberg and others within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement were successful in helping a young woman named Julienne* reunite with her family.

Julienne came to America to leave behind a life of constant struggle and worry.

Originally from Kenya, she was forced to flee to Burundi and then to the Congo as a result of an ongoing armed conflict. She left behind the only real family she had left — twin nieces.  The last time Julienne saw them was in 1995, when the girls were only two years old. She heard that her sister, the girls’ mother, passed away and that the girls were living with friends of the family. 

“It would’ve been too dangerous for me to go back for them,” she explained.

But the girls were never far from her mind, and Julienne began searching for her nieces shortly after arriving in the United States in 2007. She asked several agencies for help, but did not have any success. Thankfully, one agency finally told her to contact the American Red Cross. In July 2008, she did.

Glinberg started processing the case right away.  From the American Red Cross, it was passed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kenya. The ICRC works in areas affected by armed conflict, supporting the humanitarian needs of the individuals and families displaced. Relief workers in Africa took Julienne’s message and traveled between refugee camps and remote villages, trying to find information about her family.

Six months later, Glinberg received news on the whereabouts of Julienne’s nieces.  They were in Tanzania, and they were searching for Julienne too.

“I was overcome with joy when (she) called me with the news,” Julienne recalled. “I’m so thankful to (her) for all of her help; she gave me hope.”

 Through the Red Cross, Julienne received a personal letter from her nieces a short time later.

Glinberg was thrilled that Julienne had been reconnected with her family, but she and Julienne still had never met in person. One day recently, Glinberg was making a presentation to a group of refugees when she got the surprise of her career. 

“I was using Julienne’s story as an example of our work in international family tracing,” Glinberg explained.  “After I finished my story, a woman from the audience grabbed a microphone and cried out ‘I’m the woman! I’m the one who you are talking about!’ ”  

Revekka never expected to meet Julienne, or any of her clients, that way. 

Julienne rushed to greet Glinberg with a kiss and hug, and further expressed her gratitude by singing her a traditional African song in front of the entire crowd. 

“I was moved to tears; she simply made my day,” Glinberg shared.

Cases and successful reunions like Julienne’s motivate Glinberg to search far and wide for others with lost loved ones.

“We’ve been able to make some miracles happen, and hopefully we’ll continue to do so.”

Since their reunion, Julienne has been writing letters to her nieces in Tanzania. She hopes, one day, to bring them to United States to live with her.

If you have been separated from your immediate family due to armed conflict or natural disaster, including the Holocaust, please contact your local American Red Cross Chapter to inquire about the Restoring Family Links program. Additionally, if you would like to volunteer as an interpreter or caseworker in your local community, learn more at www.redcross.org/familylinks

*The client’s name has been withheld for privacy.

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243 , Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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