A Place Called Home: A Refugee Family's Journey of Hope

Darfur family reunited after one of the worst massacres in recent history.

ByABC News
June 24, 2013, 3:14 PM

Aug. 12, 2013— -- Mona Kabashi's very existence is a "miracle."

For years her parents believed she was dead.

And Mona thought her parents were dead, murdered by men on horseback who raided their village in Darfur, burning homes and killing children. The vicious 2004 attack was carried out by the Janjaweed, an Arab militia that terrorized the Darfur region of Sudan for more than a decade in what the United States and United Nations eventually declared was genocide.

Mona, who was just 5 years old at the time, was playing in a field nearby.

"People were running in my way. They were telling me go back to my family," Mona said. "When I came back, I didn't find anything."

In the chaos, her father, Munawar, made a split-second decision. When he couldn't find Mona, he decided to save his other children, leaving Mona behind.

"I feel so bad I can't save my daughter," he told ABC News.

"Munawar never gave up hope. He kept looking, he kept searching, " said Sasha Chanoff, who helps refugee families rebuild their lives through his nonprofit organization RefugePoint. "When parents are separated from their children they often never find out what the fate of their children is. And still, they live with this knot, this anxiety, this horror of not knowing."

Chanoff met the Kabashi family in 2006. They were homeless and hungry, living in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, after years of moving from camp to camp across East Africa.

"When we found Munawar and his family, they were in bad shape," he said. "They had already lost one child to starvation. Their other children had gotten very sick."

RefugePoint gave them food and shelter, and even helped the family emigrate to St. Louis. Then, amazingly, they found out that their daughter Mona was alive after all. She had been taken in by a distant cousin.

"My heart it feel really better because my daughter she is still alive," her father said. "One day she is going to join us."

It took years to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy, but finally Mona was able to begin the last leg of her long journey home.

As she prepared for the trip, she said a silent prayer -- "Don't take me away from my family. I just want to be with them forever."

Recently Mona, 14, stepped off the plane and into her family's waiting arms.

"Daddy! Daddy," she cried as she ran to her father. Her little sister, 10, had been a year old the last time Mona had seen her in Darfur.

"I don't care that they change, I just care that I am here. That's all that I care about," Mona said.

Kristi Maynard of Martha's Vineyard was also there to greet Mona. Maynard had donated $10,000 to help Mona's family come to America in 2009 and had continued to help them.

"It's so overwhelming," Maynard said. "I know I asked her specifically, 'Well, what do you have in the bag you brought?' She has this large bag. 'Nothing.' She has nothing."

But on Mona's first day in America, Maynard took her shopping, at Target. As the teenager tried on shoes and clothes and jewelry, she exclaimed, "I have never seen anything before like these things, but I think it's so cool!"

"It's like she's blossomed and is embracing what it is to be an American girl," Maynard said.

And Mona has her own American dream.

"I want to be a doctor, to help people who are sick," she told ABC News.

On Tuesday, Mona will get up early for her first day at school in America. It will be a first step toward achieving that dream.

"Here in America, anything is possible," Munawar said, adding that next year the whole family would apply for American citizenship. "It's a great country. It is a blessed country."

How You Can Help

To find out how you can help refugees, go to RefugePoint: www.RefugePoint.org

To help refugees in America visit:United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrantsand Refugee Council USA

To learn more about the global refugee crisis and forced migration visit:UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)and International Organization for Migration