Red Cross helps find a sister and best friend

After years of not knowing, a Minnesota couple from Cuba learn their beloved family member is alive and well

In one way, it took hardly any time at all to find Felipe’s sister in Cuba. Just months, in fact, once the Red Cross search formally started. In another way, it lasted years: Felipe lost contact with his sister Carmela in 1992 when he and his wife moved to Minnesota. Around that time, they exchanged their last letter with Carmela.

There was no phone number to call. More letters were sent. They received no replies. Maybe she was sick. Or worse. They assumed something bad had happened. This struck Nila the hardest. “I love her too much,” she says. For her, Carmela was more than her husband’s sister: Carmela was her sister, her family, her best friend.

Felipe and Nila left Havana in 1966 and moved to the United States where they joined her mother. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

JoAnn, a long-time family friend in Minnesota, alerted Felipe to the possibility of working through the Red Cross to find Carmela. JoAnn knew that every day for years Felipe wondered about his sister. Papi and Mami are “like my parents,” she says.

JoAnn reached out through email to the Red Cross to learn more about family tracing. Once Felipe agreed to search, local volunteers moved the process forward, informing JoAnn, who updated Felipe. When she knew it worked – meaning, when she knew Carmela was found and, most importantly, alive – JoAnn went to Felipe and Nila at once with the great news.

Married 60 years, Felipe and Nila have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. For five years in Cuba, they went on dates always with a chaperone.

The first phone call was short. Felipe’s sister used a friend’s phone to reach him. Nila was on the call too.  They shared short phrases. Hardly said anything in word count. And yet the meaning of Nila’s basic words — my sister, I miss you, I love you – say everything. “Are you well?” Felipe asked Carmela. They’ve had several more calls and exchanged more email messages with JoAnn receiving and translating them.

Red Cross volunteer Kalay helped reconnect Felipe and Nila with their sister in Cuba. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

“I appreciate the Red Cross,” says Felipe, who was excited and happy to learn that his sister was alive and well. His sister Carmela was excited, too. Her blood pressure went up, he says. They’ll have more calls, emails and letters. They’ll not lose contact again.

Story by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross. To learn more about family reconnecting services, click here.

Red Cross helps reunite two brothers after 30 years

Story by Jonna Meidal, American Red Cross volunteer

Albert Fulton with two of his grandchildren. Photo courtesy of Mr. Fulton.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a conversation with Albert Fulton is worth a million. He has lived a cinematic kind of life—a story so incredible it’s hard to believe it’s true. And yet, Albert is the epitome of humility. His enthusiasm for sharing his life, especially the part about how the Red Cross helped him find his long-lost brother, is contagious.

Albert and Charles Fulton were born in Tennessee and raised in a family of eight children. They shared the same bed as kids, were only a grade apart in school, and did everything together. Everything, that is, except play the piano.

“Every single person in my family went in to music, except me,” Albert states defiantly. “There was no way I was gonna sit down at no piano. I was rough and tough and loved sports,” he adds in his charming southern drawl. Despite his mother’s innate musical talents, she was never able to pass on her gifts to Albert. It’s a good thing too, because instead, Albert poured himself into science and made huge advancements for his field.

Albert studied chemical engineering in college and would later go on to advancing the mammogram machine at Xerox, teaching Nuclear Physics at Yale, and becoming the Lead Engineer for NASA and the Department of Defense. For most people, even just one of these contributions would be commendable, but for Albert, he feels the proudest about the family he created. Today, Albert lives in Austin, Minnesota. He has seven children and 42 grandbabies, all of whom he talks with “almost every single day.” This value on family started when he was young and was cemented by the bond he had with his brother Charles.

Charles ended up doing many amazing things in his life as well. He studied music at the University of Munich and started his own opera company. He toured all over Europe and Africa blessing the world with his musical talent. Albert says it was during this time that they started to lose touch, however.

They were able to reconnect in 1967 at their mother’s funeral. But then afterward, Charles went back to Amsterdam and was never heard from again. Most of the Fulton family figured the worst had happened to Charles. They figured he had either “died or was in a mental institution.” But Albert knew Charles was just “off doing his own thing,” which is why he tirelessly started looking for him.

This was no easy feat, given the fact that email wasn’t widely used at that time, so after over thirty years of searching, he finally turned to the American Red Cross Minnesota Region for help. Through the international Restoring Family Links program, in a matter of two months the Red Cross had found his brother Charles.

Albert remembers the day Charles called him like it was yesterday. He immediately started asking Charles, “What’s your mama’s name?” and “What are the names of all of your brothers and sisters?,” hoping that the caller really was who he said he was. It wasn’t long before both brothers were crying and catching up, joking around and telling stories about their childhood. They talked for three hours that day and have stayed in touch ever since.

When asked if there were any hard feelings about Charles’s disappearance, Albert states emphatically, “Absolutely not! There’s no bad blood between us. No bad blood at all! He’s my brother.” And that is that.

Albert is undeniably grateful to the Red Cross for finding his brother Charles. He becomes teary-eyed and emotional just discussing it. “I love you all for it!” he keeps saying over and over again. He mentions as well that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as both brothers are fighting similar diagnoses of cancer. “We can now fight it together,” he states. “Thank you Red Cross. You have changed my life forever!”

Click here to learn more about Restoring Family Links.

Five year search for sister ends with Red Cross help

After five years of searching on her own, Asha Sugule turned to the Red Cross in Minneapolis for help finding her sister somewhere, she believed, in east Africa. 

Story by Katie Kusnierek. Photos by Daniel Soderstrom. 

Asha Sugule (above) was separated from her sister Layla for five years when the Red Cross reconnected them in a few months time. Photo credit: Daniel Soderstrom.

In 2006, Asha Sugule married and moved with her new husband from east Africa to the United States, leaving behind her 5-year-old sister Layla. Fortunately, Asha was able to leave Layla with family friends who had a telephone. The separation left a huge void in Asha’s life, but she was grateful to be able to speak with her sister and know that she was doing well.

Asha continued to have regular conversations with Layla for two to three years until the family caring for young Layla abruptly left Nairobi, Kenya, and could no longer be reached by phone.  The family could not afford to have a phone and Layla was too young to find the means to contact Asha. So, Asha and Layla lost all contact with each other.  Distraught at the thought of her sister being so far away from her and so alone, Asha feared for Layla’s safety who was now a young lady and in need of her older sister’s guidance and love.

Asha tried desperately to find out any information that she could on the whereabouts of her sister. Asha only had hearsay from friends and neighbors to go off of and continued searching for Layla for five years with no success.

In Minneapolis, Yahye Mohamed (right) was the first Red Cross worker to meet with Asha and start the search for her sister Layla. Photo credit: Daniel Soderstrom.

Finally, Asha contacted friends in Yemen who told her to try contacting the Red Cross for help in the search for her sister.  Much to Asha’s surprise, Red Cross workers with the Restoring Family Links program were able to track down Layla in a matter of months and deliver a message to Asha with Layla’s contact information on September 23, 2013. After years of separation, Asha was able to reconnect with her sister, who had moved to Ethiopia, married, and was pregnant with her first child.

Today, Asha and Layla are able to speak on the phone and are once again a part of each other’s lives. Asha is hopeful that someday Layla may move to the United States so that they can be reunited, but for now she is happy to have her sister back in her life.

Asha encourages others in her community to contact the Red Cross for help and support.  “I am so happy because someone was able to find my family member,” says Asha. She wants others to feel the same sense of relief and joy that the Red Cross gave her.

Last year the Northern Minnesota Red Cross region worked with 53 families on searches for loved ones across international borders.  If you have lost contact with a family member following war, disaster, migration, or other humanitarian crisis, please contact us at 612-871-7676 so that we can start your reconnection query. 

From Spain to Minnesota, and still with the Red Cross

Sara Parcero Leites
Sara Parcero Leites, a former Spanish Red Cross volunteer, now lives in Minnesota and volunteers with the American Red Cross.

Four years ago when she was just 16 years old, Sara Parcero Leites was one of twelve people chosen (out of hundreds of applicants) for a scholarship to the United World College.  Today, she’s a junior at Macalester College, studying Political Science and International Studies with a focus in Human Rights and Humanitarianism, and she’s the new Restoring Family Links Intern for the American Red Cross in Minnesota.

Sara’s already familiar with the Red Cross. While in Spain she volunteered with the Spanish Red Cross, working as a wilderness leader at children’s camps and training school children in emergency preparedness. She wishes she could have done more to help the Spanish Red Cross, but her roles were limited because she was under 18. “Volunteer roles are different in Spain. Since I was under 18 I could not do a lot, but I tried to do as much as I could. I worked mostly with kids, the elderly, and at centers for kids with cancer and other illnesses.”

New Restoring Family Links intern, Sara Parcero Leites, will help reconnect family members separated by war or disaster.
New Restoring Family Links intern, Sara Parcero Leites, will help reconnect family members separated by war or disaster.

As an intern with the Restoring Family Links Program, Sara will help restore communication between family members separated because of war, disasters and other humanitarian situations around the world. “It’s a big process,” she says. “We get a request from a family member and then we try to get in touch with the family member who’s lost and deliver a message between them.” Her plans include sharing with the local Spanish-speaking community information about how the Red Cross helped reconnect families after Hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid struck Mexico in mid September. 

Sara’s excited about working with Minnesota’s growing Spanish-speaking community and using her language skills to share awareness about Red Cross services. Soon she’ll be speaking on Spanish radio station La Raza in Minneapolis. Someday Sara hopes to work for the United Nations, but until then she wants to accomplish a lot during her time with the American Red Cross. “I really want to reach out to the Spanish community because we can do good work with it.”

Story and photos by Kelly Lynch, Communications Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. 

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