Family torn apart; reunited by University

Patrick Doyle

Tears and laughter filled the Philadelphia International Airport terminal on Sept. 12, as a Congolese family, torn apart by civil war, was reunited for the first time in three years.

Kabengo Namwirha and her youngest son Moses, 5, welcomed the arrival of her husband, Mashanda Kuderha, and their 10 other children.

Jubilation marked the event, ending a long and painful struggle that began in 1999 when Tutsi soldiers attacked Kuderha and Namwirha’s home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kuderha, a DRC photojournalist, had documented human rights abuses committed by Tutsi soldiers against ethnic Hutus.

Fearing the international publication of the photos, the Tutsi soldiers raided Kuderha’s home, hoping to kill him and destroy the photos. However, Kuderha was not at home, leaving only Namwirha and her children.

Enraged, the Tutsi soldiers raped Namwirha and her oldest daughters, killed her sister and tossed her into a Tutsi prison.

After three days of torture in the prison, Namwirha was freed when the prison was attacked by guerilla soldiers.

She returned to her village to find her home empty and Moses, then 3, crying in the streets.

Still fearing the wrath of the Tutsis, the two fled the DRC through the forest, finding their way to Tanzania after several weeks of walking. Hiding in a Catholic convent, Namwirha and Moses waited two months while a priest raised money to secure Zimbabwean passports and airplane tickets to Philadelphia.

Shortly after her arrival in America, Namwirha approached the Villanova Law School Clinical Program looking for legal assistance in her application for asylum protection in Immigration Court.

Villanova’s program encompasses a number of clinics, all offering pro bono services for low-income clients. Clients are represented by law school students under the supervision of a lawyer.

Namwirha’s case was assigned to the Clinic for Asylum, Refugees and Emigrant Services (CARES), where she was represented by Villanova law students Lyndon Marquez and Leigh Woodruff-Marquardt under the guidance of Professor Michele Pistone.

The students won asylum protection in the courts for both Namwirha and Moses.

Barely pausing for a breath, Pistone and her students began a search for Kuderha and the other 10 children, eventually finding them in a Kenyan refugee camp.

CARES headed back to the courts, seeking derivative asylum for the remaining 11 family members. Once again, Villanova was victorious, and all 11 members were granted asylum.

Kuderha and the 10 children, ranging in ages from six to 21, arrived in Philadelphia on an afternoon flight from London.

Namwirha and Moses headed the welcoming party, which also included a number of overjoyed Villanova faculty, students and staff.

Following the airport reunion, the family returned to its temporary home in Philadelphia for an authentic African feast.

Pistone and her students returned to their offices to begin work on another clinical project.