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August 20, 2015

Helping refugees to reconnect with their families by teaching information technology

Nouakchott, Mauritania – Budiaki*, 32, has a smile that lights up a room. And today, after nearly 17 years of tragedy and fear, she is smiling constantly. She’s thrilled with her new life, and excited about the possibilities of her new calling, because it allows her to help other refugee women.

Now, through the skills she learned at the UNHCR Women’s Centre in Nouakchott, she is helping other refugee women locate and contact their loved ones.

“I’ll never forget one student’s smile when I helped her open a Skype account,” she says. “She was able to talk to her family for the first time since they were separated.”

Budiaki, a Congolese refugee, knows what it is like to lose touch with family members. And she knows how much it means to find them and stay connected.

When she was just 15, she was forced to flee from Kinshasa alone. Her family’s political connections had put all of them in mortal danger. She never saw her parents, her sister, or her uncle again.

It was the beginning of a long journey with so much danger and so many twists that it seems more like a movie rather than real life. But there’s a happy outcome — it’s definitely not an “ending.” A more accurate term would be “new beginning.”

Now 32, with a husband and two daughters, Budiaki at last has family around her. She knows what it means to lose the people you love, and she has experienced the joy of finding them again. She has located her brothers through the Internet, and she now stays in touch with them, even though she has not seen them since she fled.

“I don’t know if I will ever see my brothers again, but at least, thanks to information technology, we can stay connected.”

She continues her search for her parents, her sister, and her uncle.

Grateful for the help she received from UNHCR donors, she happily passes her knowledge along to others. She is finding fulfillment in helping others rebuild their lives and reconnect, just as generous donors helped her.

The UNHCR Women’s Centre is Nouakchott is teaching women who have lost homes, family members and possessions skills they need to rebuild their lives and support themselves and their children. In addition to teaching information technology, it also offers classes in cooking, tailoring, and fashion.

Story by Helena Pes, based in Nouakchott, Mauritania, published UNHCR Tracks.

* Her name is changed for protection reasons.