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Finding Francisca's family

What it takes to bring a child home

Daneal Lightner, content writer

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This one word was the only clue Issac had to find Francisca’s family and reunite her with them.

Many children in Ghana place their hope in Isaac. They depend on his dedication to making sure they know the safety, love, and connection only family can give.

Worldwide, more than 153 million children have been categorized as orphans, living apart from their immediate families. Eight million of those children are living in orphanages. Of those children, more than 6.4 million have a living parent or close relative.

There are many reasons a child might be separated from their family, although poverty is a driving force. Many families living in perpetual hunger without adequate shelter, nutrition, or medical care have no choice but to place their children in orphanages or send them to work. Employers who target children in extreme poverty often convince desperate parents that they’re providing a good employment opportunity that will help the family, but these vulnerable children are often exploited and at high risk of kidnapping and trafficking.

Stronger, supported, and connected families are the answer.

And that’s what drives Bethany to fight—to return separated children to their families and help their families grow strong enough to remain together.

Meet Issac Agyei

We know, and decades of research prove, that the absolute best place for a child is within the safe, strong arms of their own family. This is where they thrive.

And Issac Agyei deeply believes in the power of family.

He says, “I am committed to seeing children nurtured and protected within loving families. No matter their circumstances.”

And for more than five years, Issac has put that commitment to work, leading Bethany’s family reunification program in Ghana. Throughout his career, Isaac has reunified over 107 children and prevented many other children and families from being separated.

He works diligently to move children out of orphanages and forced child labor and back into their families through in-depth tracing techniques. He gives families tools to make themselves stronger, protecting them against future hardships and keeping them together.

When a crisis separates a child from their family it can be extremely difficult to join them back together. Often a child’s family cannot be located or the family cannot find their missing child. Or, once located, they need expert support and help to safely reunify, ensuring the reasons that pulled them apart in the first place won’t cause future separation.

This is Issac’s specialty.

He is dedicated to tracing and locating missing children and their families. Like a puzzle, he scrutinizes every detail. He leaves no stone unturned, working tirelessly until they are found.

Children who’ve been trafficked are often taken hundreds of miles from their families. The Ghanaian countryside is desolate and rural, sometimes with no roadways or communication connecting villages. And Ghana’s cities are densely populated, making it equally difficult to find a missing child or family member.

Often, the odds are worse than finding a needle in a haystack.

But God has given Issac the talents, passion, and perseverance required for this intense work.

He uses the child’s name, memories, dialect, and other clues he can gather to pinpoint which village, city, or community the child might be from.

Then he narrows down the daunting list, visiting each potential place. He talks with the police, neighbors, teachers, students, churches, community leaders, and citizens. He shows them the child’s picture. He asks questions. Always searching for more clues and praying for miracles.

When successful, the process can take days, weeks, or months. But Issac knows he is often the only hope a child has of ever seeing their family again, and it drives him to continue.

And this is exactly how Issac found Francisca’s family.

Ojo and finding Francisca’s family

Francisca was 8 years old. She’d lived in an orphanage for over a year and couldn’t provide clear information about where she was from. Her file and paperwork offered no leads and orphanage staff had no information to offer.

But it was clear Francisca loved and missed her family. When asked about them, she’d become distraught. She’d struggle to form words but would always repeat Ojo. Ojo. Ojo.

Issac had never heard this word, but it was all he had to go on. So he began his search.

For days, Issac dug, asked, and researched. What could ojo mean?

Finally, amidst prayers and desperation, Issac found a tiny place on the city map called Ojo Park.

Flooded with hope, he immediately made his way across the city of Accra and found a school near the playground.

Accra’s population—more than 2.7 million people—includes many merchants and travelers, people who are on the move. But with the help of the local school’s principal, he began to show Francisca’s picture to teachers and students, asking everyone he met if they recognized the little girl.

Finally, Issac showed her picture to a young girl walking to class. Her eyes immediately filled with tears and emotion. With a trembling hand, she took the picture. When she looked up she cried out, “This is my sister! Her name is Francisca. She’s been missing since last year.”

Growing stronger

The journey to reunify Francisca with her family had only begun.

Issac knows that finding a child’s family doesn’t always guarantee reunification. First, he must complete an extensive evaluation of the family’s current situation and the underlying causes of the child’s separation.

Sometimes circumstances prevent a child from safely returning to their family. When that is the case, Issac searches for the next best thing, safe and loving care within the child’s extended family. He then goes to work to locate a grandparent, aunt, or cousin instead.

In Francisca’s case, her family was shocked and rejoiced at the idea that she could return. Their little girl had been gone for more than a year and they’d spent months praying for her safety. Together, they worked with Isaac, the local government, and the orphanage to ensure her reunification was safe and sustainable.

Before reunifying a child with their family, Issac ensures the family has the tools they need to grow stronger and more resilient.

He makes sure their basic needs are met, the home is sound, and their living conditions are safe. When necessary, he helps the family find ways to generate sufficient and stable income from work or a small business. He sees to it that the child has access to education.

But it’s still not as simple as that.

A child, like Francisca, may have been separated from their family for years. Many have undergone significant trauma. Children and their families often have deep wounds that must be addressed and healed. Issac walks alongside both, ensuring they are prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally for successful reconnection and reunification.

This includes the child making multiple family and home visits first. Then each family member receives any mental or physical health care needed. And caregivers and family members attend Bethany workshops to learn how to support the child as they heal and understand and address the trauma they’ve faced.

Safe, loved, connected

And finally, God willing, Issac’s hard work and dedication pay off. Eventually the child and family are ready. They’re reunited, stronger than ever. Ready to take on future challenges and crises together. And Issac and his colleagues are there for them every step of the way, providing support and community to families after reunification.

Reunifying children—who’ve faced significant loneliness, trauma, and fear—with their missing families is difficult work at best. It tests you, feels impossible, and requires the strongest endurance, commitment, and passion.

Yet, this restoration is work God calls us to. Because he created family for children. It’s where they thrive.

And it’s only accomplished through the Bethany family of dedicated caseworkers like Issac, donors, volunteers, and international and community partners. Only together, can we ensure children are right where they belong—within loving families empowered to give children the safety, love, and connection they need.

Because of people like you who believe in family, there’s hope for children like Francisca. After being reunited with her family, it was her pure joy and hope for a bright future that gave Issac the strength and resolve to begin his next search.

And, together, we won’t stop until every child knows the safety, love, and connection of family.

Your support changes lives