A 70-year-old father has been reunited with his daughter, 23 years after she was taken from Rwanda to Italy for adoption during the genocide, having been mistaken for an orphan.
Jeanette Chiapello flew to Rwanda this month from Italy to meet her father, Leonard Sebarinda, after a brother had spent years tracking her down.
Sebarinda last saw Chiapello, originally named Beata Nyirambabazi, when she was two years old. He had given up all hope of setting eyes on her again.
Chiapello’s mother, a Tutsi, had taken her, her twin sister and her brother to shelter at the Nyamata Catholic church, where she hoped they would be safe from the killings. But Hutu attackers came, throwing grenades and spears into the church, killing those cowering inside, an estimated 10,000 people. The church is now a genocide memorial site.
After the slaughter, villagers found Chiapello alive among the piles of bodies, her mother, and two siblings lying dead nearby. She was taken to a local orphanage to be cared for.
Her father had been hiding in a different location with the couple’s three other children. Sebarinda spent days searching for the rest of his family and eventually found Chiapello at the orphanage, alongside hundreds of children who had lost their families.
“I confirmed that she was indeed my Beata. She even smiled at me when I saw her,” Sebarinda told the East African. “I left her there to plan on how I was going to get her out of the orphanage so that I could take care of her together with her siblings who had survived. I left the orphanage with plans of coming back.”
While he was away, Chiapello was flown to Italy, one of a group of children registered as orphans to be given up for adoption. When Sebarinda returned and found her missing, he was told she had been taken to Italy, but no one at the orphanage had more information about her whereabouts.
Dozens of such children were taken to Europe for adoption, even though some of them still had family living in Rwanda.
In 1997, 92 children were returned to Rwanda from Italy after the intervention of the UN, however, some stayed in Italy despite personal appeals for their return from Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, to the Italian government.
One of Chiapello’s brothers, Vincent Twizeyimana, began searching for her about 10 years ago. He approached the orphanage where she had lived in Rwanda, and managed to get some pictures of her and eventually her name and email address.
Initially, she rejected his overtures, saying she was an orphan and could not be the person Twizeyimana was looking for. However, earlier this year, Chiapello reached out to her brother through Facebook. A DNA test confirmed they were family.
Accompanied by her Italian husband, Chiapello travelled to Ntarama in Bugesera district to meet her family earlier this month, where she was welcomed with a traditional ceremony.
She only knows a few words of Kinyarwanda, the language of her area, but spoke to her relatives through a translator about her life in an orphanage and subsequent adoption by an Italian family.
“It took me until when I was an adult to start reflecting on my African roots and biological parents,” she said.
Source: The Guardian