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Utah refugee reunited with parents after 28 years

A Salt Lake woman originally from Congo has been reunited with her parents after almost 30 years. (KUTV)
A Salt Lake woman originally from Congo has been reunited with her parents after almost 30 years. (KUTV)
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A Salt Lake woman originally from Congo has been reunited with her parents after almost 30 years.

Until a few years ago, she said she believed they were no longer living.

In 1993, as a 12-year-old girl, Tina Kanyeba came home from school to her village violently ransacked and her family gone.

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Challenge after challenge followed. After she was married to her husband, Willy, he was kidnapped and enslaved.

Tina made it to a refugee camp with her kids, where nine months later they were miraculously reunited with Willy.

It wasn’t long after that they came to the United States and settled as refugees in Utah. Thanks to connections made here and resources, Tina got a Facebook and found her parents’ names.

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That was in 2017, when they connected and she realized that they were alive and living in Canada. Up until that point, Tina and her parents had no idea the other had survived.

Sunday, Tina’s mother and father, Rosalie and Francois Mutomba, landed in Salt Lake City where they saw Tina for the very first time in 28 years and met Tina’s husband and eight children.

Mike and Marinda Wessman are the Kenyeba’s refugee mentors through Catholic Community Services. They have been guiding the family through navigating life in the United States.

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While they were on a trip to Canada a few years ago, Tina revealed to them she’d found her parents were living in Calgary. The Wessman’s found them and met them on that trip.

After meeting the Mutombas, they created a GoFundMe page to fundraise money for a trip so the families could reunite.

“One thing I've really noticed and observed with Tina, Willy, and their kids is just the patient joy of life," the Wessmans shared. "They are, despite so many challenges, so happy and loving."

Reunited with her parents, the family will spend their first Christmas all together in Utah.


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A timeline of events was provided by Mike Wessman.

  • 1981 - Tina Kanyeba was born.
  • 1993 - Tina was separated from her parents and family due to violence. Their home and school was in the Kikula area of Likasi, Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • 1993 - Tina’s parents and siblings traveled from Likasi, to Lubumbashi, DRC, to Zambia.
  • 1993 - Tina moved to Luputa, DRC, with a pastor's family, who took her in after she was separated from family.
  • ~1998 - Tina married her husband, Willy, after courting for about eight months.
  • 1999 - Willy traveled to Lubumbashi, found a place to live and work, returned to Luputa and brought Tina with him. The couple had four kids born there — Rosa, Chibanda, Hiana and Mami.
  • 2008 - The family moved to South Kivu, DRC, near Rwanda and Burundi, seeking better economic opportunity.
  • 2009/2010 - Violence forced the family to flee South Kivu. Willy was captured by soldiers and made a slave to the soldiers, Tina and her daughters fled to Zambia. Willy also fled, traveling by hiding in semi-trucks to Namibia.
  • ~2011 - The family was reunited in a refugee camp in Osire, Namibia.
  • December 2016 - The family was accepted to the United States and traveled to Salt Lake City.
  • December 2021 - Tina was reunited in person with her parents.
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