Incredible tale of one mother and daughter who never gave up

The last time Ibola Samedi had hugged her 12-year-old daughter Lovely was after school on Tuesday, 12 January. A few minutes later, the earth began to shake. In seconds, Ms Samedi saw her house, in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince, collapse.

Terrified, she grabbed her daughter Stephanie, 10, and sons Levinson and Dickensley, four and one, and ran to a patch of nearby wasteland. Half an hour later, Ms Samedi returned to the pile of concrete and twisted metal that lay on the site of her former dwelling. Digging with her bare hands, she found the body of Widler, her seven-year-old son, beneath the rubble. Lovely, the fifth of her children, was unaccounted for.

Until last week, that is. On 4 July, Ms Samedi was telephoned by Etienne Guerline, a local case-worker with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid agency attempting to reunite children believed to have been orphaned in the earthquake with their friends or families. "Do you know a girl called Lovely?" Ms Guerline asked.

"Yes," replied Ms Samedi, who in late January had moved to Les Cayes, in south-west Haiti, to rebuild her shattered life. "She was my eldest daughter, but now she is dead." Ms Guerline took a deep breath. "Maybe you are mistaken."

By Wednesday, Lovely was back in the arms of the mother she had not seen for six months. "I just hugged her and just started to cry out 'My baby! My baby!'," Ms Samedi recalls. "We both cried and held each other for a long time. It was truly a miracle."

The story of how this family came to be reunited illustrates the painstaking nature of the work required to rebuild Haiti. It also underlines how, even after six months, overseas adoption should not be considered the only source of hope for Haiti's orphans.

We now know that a policeman had discovered Lovely, a day after the earthquake, roaming the streets of Port-au-Prince several miles from her home.

She was disorientated, traumatised and in a state of shock, unable to say anything except her first name, so he took her to the Refuge des Orphelins, an orphanage in nearby Martissant.

In June, Ms Guerline visited that home and added Lovely's name to a database which the IRC and other agencies have created to ease the process of reconnecting missing children with their parents. She returned six times, building trust and probing for information that might allow her to track down any old connections. "We did not have much to go on, because Lovely did not remember even her own surname, let alone her phone number or address," Ms Guerline recalls. "But she eventually told us some details: that she once lived in Delmas and that her old school uniform was pink and white." Encouraged, Ms Guerline showed photographs of Lovely to locals. After several fruitless hours, a man who was fixing a car flipped through the pictures, shaking his head, before stopping at one. He stopped and smiled. "I know that girl!"

Ms Samedi was eventually taken to Lovely's orphanage, after convincing the IRC that she was the child's mother, picking her photograph out of a line-up of similar girls and volunteering verifiable information, such as the number of brothers and sisters she had, and the colour of that school uniform.

"I am so grateful for what Etienne did. Really, it has changed both of our lives," she says. Reuniting families is a labour-intensive process. There are 2,511 children on the database, of which 424 have so far been reunited with parents. Their ability to add more is limited by a shortage of funds for new caseworkers, who cost £115 a week to train and employ.

"Stories like this show that, even after six months, there are still thousands of mothers and children out there who we can help with old-fashioned detective work," said a spokesman. "We are reuniting more every week. But we need more money and many more caseworkers. Even now, six months on, this is still a race against time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Recruitment Genius: Salesforce Developer

£50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued business growt...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss