In 2008 subsistence farmer Lucas Takido Kuma arrived home to find his youngest daughter, Jacqueline, had been seized by an armed group operating on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. Today Jacqueline is back with him after the ICRC traced her in DRC and organized her return.
38-year-old Lucas Takido Kuma goes into his mud hut and returns with a small plastic bag; a blue dress, a t-shirt and a pair of low-heeled tan sandals are all he has to remind him of his missing daughter, Jacqueline. She disappeared three years ago when armed men came to his village on the outskirts of Yambio in Western Equatoria, Sudan and abducted his youngest child.
"All of the children from the village fled into the bush. The men of the village organized a search party. Eventually the other children crept out of their hiding places and made their way home. But Jacqueline never came home," says Lucas quietly.
Communities in the towns and villages straddling the border between southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo live in fear of attack. Armed groups loot and steal and abduct children, forcibly conscripting them into their ranks.
Lucas and his oldest daughter, Aganes, never thought they would see Jacqueline again. Aganes was the last person to see her alive.
"We were cooking at home. It was six o'clock in the evening when the men attacked, brandishing their weapons. Everyone screamed and fled. I turned back and saw Jacqueline trip. She was immediately seized and taken away deep into the forest. I felt totally powerless," she says.
Bringing good newsIn November 2010 Dido Lafoklio Bage, a tracing volunteer from the Sudanese Red Crescent, brought unexpected news. Jacqueline had escaped from her captors and was safe and well in the town of Dungo in the DRC. She had given the Congolese Red Cross the name of her parents and her village. Within a day of receiving the information, Dido had located Lucas and his wife Mbusa.
A refugee from the DRC, Dido knows about the pain of separation. "Helping to reunite families," he says, "is the best job in the world."
Dido brought with him a Red Cross message from Jacqueline in which she says how grateful she is to still be alive. Lucas has read the message so many times it is now in shreds.
Unfortunately his joy is tinged with sadness. Two weeks ago his wife died. Within 24 hours she had succumbed to malaria, a disease extremely prevalent in South Sudan. The community rallied round and erected a large concrete tombstone on her grave in a clearing near the village.
Emotional homecomingAs the family is grieving, preparations for Jacqueline's return are muted. Dressed in his all white mourning clothes, Lucas waits nervously with Aganes at the tiny airstrip in Yambio for the ICRC plane to return from the DRC with his daughter from the DRC.
As Jacqueline emerges, Lucas and Aganes let out a cry of joy, sprint towards here and pull her to the ground. The family sobs as Lucas clutches his daughter to his breast, not wanting to let her go …ever.
So many children abducted in the region never return, he thought he would never see her again. In the three years she has been away, Jacqueline has turned from a child into a 15 year old woman. She looks shell-shocked, unable to comprehend that her ordeal at the hands of her ruthless captors is finally over.
"I never gave up hope of seeing my family again," she says. "Now I just want to go back to school and to start studying again."
Back at her village, emotions run high. She smiles for the first time as she catches sight of her friends. They pick her up and hoist her onto their shoulders and carry her home. The villagers start to sing and dance as Lucas puts his hand on her head and gives thanks for her return.
Jacqueline has suffered a lot during her years away and does not yet know her mother is dead.