Harriet Kamara just wants to bring her son to Canada.
The Langley woman came to Canada as a refugee more than a decade ago, and has spent her time building a new life.
She has supported herself as a hairdresser, working her way up to managing a local salon. Every month, she's sent money home to relatives in Sierra Leone, a country still recovering from a brutal civil war - she's been helping to put several relatives through school.
But when she fled the chaos of war, Kamara had to leave her son in the care of relatives. In her panic and exhaustion, she did not list her son on the first paperwork she filled out as a refugee, and she feels that one mistake has prevented her from being re-united with her child.
Kamara was born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, raised by an aunt and uncle after her parents died when she was a young child.
When she graduated school in 1991, jobs were scarce and the country was already in turmoil as the civil war began.
"Everything was in chaos, even though it was far away," she said.
While Freetown was spared the worst of the fighting early in the war, there were still many soldiers in the streets.
"We just kind of kept a low profile," Kamara said.
Her family scraped by, her aunt growing a large garden, and Kamara working as a hairdresser.
Early in January, 1999, RUF rebels entered Freetown and began an occupation that included massacres, widespread looting, sexual assaults, and arson. Kamara's son, Abdulai Yapo Kamara, was about 16 months old at the time. She carried him as the family ran for what they hoped would be safety in the centre of the city.
The next several months were chaotic, with the family moving around as they tried to find safety.
Kamara's family was particularly worried because the rebels had been targeting journalists, among others, and one of her brothers had worked as a reporter.
She tried to escape the city with her sister and brother in a car, but the car crashed and her sister Esther was killed.
Finally, she heard of boats that were heading to nearby Guinea. She made the difficult decision to leave her son behind, for what she thought would be a temporary separation.
"You wouldn't even think of going with a kid," she said of the escape boats.
There were stampedes at the shoreline, and children had been trampled.
The boats were essentially large open canoes with outboard motors. About 120 passengers were packed in, unable to move for more than 12 hours for fear of capsizing the vessel.
She finally made it ashore in Guinea and claimed refugee status in a camp. Exhausted from the journey, she filled out forms thrust at her by local UN workers.
"I didn't include my son because he wasn't with me," Kamara said.
In 2001, she was accepted as a refugee to Canada and moved to Langley.
When she left Africa, her son was four years old. Abdulai is now 17, and she has only seen him a handful of times.
Abdulai has stayed with her sister, and later with her thenfiancé. He moved back and forth for a time, and is now living with one of her brothers in Ghana, while he works there on a contract.
Kamara at first feared to even mention to immigration officials that she had a son, as she was worried she could be sent back for changing her story.
When she did look into what it would take to bring her son to Canada, it took her some time to save the more than $2,000 it cost to get the information for the first application. Then there was the long grind of waiting for the paperwork to be processed by the Canadian government.
She was denied a family class application, applied again in 2010 on humanitarian grounds and was recently turned down.
Langley couple Cherril and Grant Holcombe met Kamara through their church a few months ago and are trying to help her negotiate the confusing process of appealing yet again.
Every time they talk to officials, it keeps coming up that her son was not listed in the original file, said Grant. That seems to be the main stumbling block, regardless of the circumstances under which Kamara first filled out her forms.
The Holcombes had previously helped a couple from the Ukraine get through the system and reunite with their son after a long separation.
They're hoping they can find some way to help their friend Harriet.
For now, she is appealing for help from everyone she can, including local politicians.
She is hoping her appeal will allow her to reunite, at last.
"I don't want my son to forget," she said.
@ Copyright 2013