Daniel Oduro and Salomey Sarbeng were a young couple in Ghana when they won a prize about 14 years ago that was a dream come true. But it came with a hitch.
The prize: They could immigrate to another country.
The hitch: Only two people could go. They’d have to leave their 18-month-old son behind.
The couple took the prize, immigrated to the United States and left their son Kofi – named for then-United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan – in the care of his maternal grandparents.
On Monday, the family reunited at Des Moines International Airport. Kofi saw the siblings he’d never met: his 12-year-old brother, Desire; his 11-year-old sister, Yaa; and his 5-month old sister, Ama.
Sarbeng fought back tears as she embraced her son for the first time since he was a baby.
“I’m sorry for leaving you for so long,” she said.
“It’s a dream come true,” said dad Oduro.
Kofi was quiet and all smiles.
“She said the reason they left their homeland is because there is more opportunity in the United States. There is no war. There is a chance for a better life,” said Mercy Medical Center spokesman Gregg Lagan. The couple works at Mercy Medical Center and the reunion occurred thanks to the persistence and generosity of coworkers.
The couple’s journey first took them to New York, then to Des Moines, where they settled. The couple has worked at Mercy Medical Center for the past 10 years in housekeeping. Their children, ages 11 and 12, were born in the United States and go to St. Anthony School, Lagan said. The family goes to church at the Basilica of St. John, he said.
Five years ago, Sarbeng began working in the neonatal intensive care unit, where her coworkers learned of her story.
Mercy’s neonatal ICU staff found that their coworker did not understand the complicated process for trying to bring her son to the United States. They worked with her to begin the process.
They held bake sale after bake sale to raise funds. They completed piles of paperwork. For the better part of three years, this unit at Mercy labored to reunite a family separated by the hope for a better life.
There were frustrations. The team sent $800 to Ghana for a DNA test to prove paternity. For eight months they waited, worried that perhaps the money didn’t arrive, Lagan said. Eventually, the test proved Kofi was their son and the process continued.
Kofi has attended Catholic school in Ghana, and the family hopes to enroll him at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines.
For mom, Sarbeng, the reunion was sweet. The very next day was her birthday.
At the airport, some of the hospital workers were there to support the family’s reunion
While it may seem like a storybook ending, the work isn’t over, Lagan said. The neonatal ICU staff’s next challenge: bring Sarbeng’s parents to the United States.