Red Cross helps Portsmouth woman reunite with family in Myanmar

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A Portsmouth woman has found long-lost members of her family in Myanmar – more than 50 years after losing contact – thanks to Red Cross’s international family tracing service.

Chris Gray, 62, whose late mother Dorothy Dawson was Burmese, met her cousins and aunt in Myanmar after getting in touch with the service, which is based in Commercial Road.

I had felt so sad after losing my parents, but this has given me a real lift. My family has extended now and I feel as though I have a new connection to my mother.

Chris Gray

Detailed notes made by her mother towards the end of her life helped Chris understand parts of her mother’s history she had never known, and formed the basis of the search for her maternal uncle, Peter.

Her mother, who died in 2010, lost contact with Peter due to the political turmoil in the country in the 1960s and Chris was keen to find out what became of her Burmese family.

So the music teacher, based in Stamshaw, contacted the Red Cross for help in October 2013.

‘I felt quite excited to be taking this step, but not terribly hopeful. I passed on the information I had and I wrote a letter to Uncle Peter to let him know that mum had died.

‘I’m a regular churchgoer and I prayed and prayed that I might get some news.’

She added: ‘While we were growing up, my mother didn’t talk much about her early life in Burma. But I know Peter visited us in England in 1957.

‘After that my mum kept in touch with him by post, but by the early 1960s she had to stop sending him cards because the contact from the UK was causing him political problems.

‘She never heard that he had managed to leave Burma and I think she may have thought he had died.’

Almost a year after contacting the Red Cross, Chris got a call from Chris Currie, the co-ordinator of the Red Cross international family tracing service, who told her that her uncle Peter had passed away in 2008, but that his wife and two daughters, Aung and Zin-Zin, were still alive.

Not only, that, but they had sent pictures and a letter inviting her to visit them.

Chris started corresponding with Aung regularly, and in May this year she visited them, along with her sister, brother-in-law and a friend.

‘It was so emotional when we saw each other at the airport,’ she said.

‘The trip was fantastic – it was just so wonderful to be able to spend time with our cousins and their families, and get to see Nangon.’

Chris even had the chance to meet her aunt, Peter’s widow.

Now she can’t wait to return to Myanmar and plans to learn Burmese so she can talk to her cousins. A keen runner and veteran of over 100 marathons, she also plans to get in training for the Nangon marathon next October.

‘I had felt so sad after losing my parents,but this has given me a real lift. My family has extended now and I feel as though I have a new connection to my mother.

‘I can see a resemblance in Aung to my mother, especially when she’s sleeping, and her handwriting is very similar to mum’s!

‘I think the Red Cross tracing service is absolutely wonderful. It provides a very important service for people.

‘I’m now very keen to donate to the Red Cross in recognition of the huge difference this has made to my life.’

To find out more contact Chris Currie on (023) 9289 4214 or christinecurrie@redcross.org.uk, or go to redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Finding-missing-family.