Angolan war orphans start new lives, reunited with kin

Teresa Nandulo (13) mothered her three siblings for three years after losing her father during Angola’s 27-year war and her own mother soon after. Reunited with relatives, she yearns for a role change.

One of the estimated 18 000 people still separated from their families after the war, Nandulo and her sister and two brothers—the youngest of them four, were reunited with their paternal uncle last weekend by the Red Cross.

The sombre teenager, wise beyond her years, clutched her sole possession—a hen—which she guarded jealously during a flight that transported her from a makeshift orphanage to the town where her nearest family lived.

The hen was a present for her new family which she immediately handed over to her eldest aunt, the most senior of her uncle’s three spouses.

“I recognise them although I last saw them seven years ago,” a tired but ecstatic Nandulo said after seeing her three aunts, all co-wives of her uncle.

“Here I will be happy. I didn’t see the war.
Our father died in 2002 just before the war ended. My mother died later when my baby brother was a month old. All this while, the orphanage camp was our home. I was not happy there.”

The orphanage in the war-ravaged town of Mavinga, more than 1 000km from the seaside capital Luanda, comprises four tents where 27 orphans live with a handful of elderly people who have lost their kin in the war.

The hot and dusty town in the southeastern Cuando Cubango province bordering Namibia was flattened by bombs during the war and this is where the children’s father died. Their mother succumbed to disease shortly after.

In Andulo, in the neighbouring Bie province, where the children were relocated, the land is still dotted with landmines which makes farming difficult.

Between five and eight million landmines were planted during the war, according to government estimates.

Madalena Natchiyombo, the children’s eldest aunt, said food was a problem for the family—already burdened by four adult members and 12 children—but underlined that feeding four additional mouths would not be an insurmountable problem.

“My husband has inherited some fields and we have planted vegetables. We are apprehensive because there are still mines around. But we will survive like we have survived before.”

Oliveira Simic, a Bosnian working for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), said such generosity was rare in other parts of the world.

“This is the beauty of Africa,” she said. “People who have nothing open their hearts and their doors.”

“The children lost one mother and now they have three,” she said.

Nandulo, who nursed her terror-stricken baby brother during the flight to their new home, said she was looking forward to regaining her childhood.

“I sense I will always be their mother but now our aunts are our mothers,” she said.

Vittoria Lutele (20), the youngest of the three aunts, mirrored her sentiments.

“I was overjoyed to see them. They may be the children of my husband’s brother, but they are the siblings of my children, so they are my children.”

“I cannot thank God enough for bringing them back to us,” she added.

Although no national statistics exist, thousands of Angolans are still separated from their families. The ICRC alone has more than 18 000 people on their list still seeking their kin.

More than 500 000 people were killed in fighting in the former Portuguese colony before a peace agreement was signed in 2002, and an estimated 3,5-million Angolans were driven from their homes.

Reunification efforts are now spearheaded by the government, humanitarian organisations and non-governmental bodies who put out profiles on radio and in posters which are distributed nationwide.

However, tracing is made difficult by the fact that vast swathes of the sprawling country are still inaccessible, while acute poverty—officially standing at 68%—is another deterrent.

A humanitarian worker said: “When it’s parents in question, there is no problem. But sometimes with more distant family, there is a reluctance to accept more people simply because they themselves are starving.” - AFP

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