Watch: Orphaned South African expat from UAE reunites with sister after 33 years

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Dubai: A South African expat based in the United Arab Emirates and her sister, orphaned and separated by circumstances when they were growing up, have reunited after 33 long years.

Tania Jenkinson, a former teacher at Umm Al Quwain, and her upset sister Glynis Ruiters told Gulf News from Toronto, Canada, where they met on August 7, that they could not believe they were together again.

When the two met outside Toronto Pearson International Airport, a short video of which was taken by a friend of Glynis, the emotions at play ran high.

Choking in tears and at a loss for words, the two women hugged and clung to each other, not wanting to let go of the moment. And then, when they finally broke the embrace, Glynis, tears streaming down her cheeks, continued to run her fingers over Tania’s face, almost as if to reassure herself that her sister’s presence was real.

“What an amazing feeling,” exclaimed Glynis. She had come specially from Vancouver where she lives to receive Tania who flew to Toronto from Dubai.

Long Lost Sisters: Glynis Ruiters (in green) with Tania Jenkinson outside Toronto Airport.
Image credit: screenshot.

The catch up of a life

As the overwhelmed duo made their way to a nearby cafe to regroup, it was the start of what could be described as the catch-up of a lifetime.

Indeed, the sisters have come a long way – and especially since they last saw each other, all too briefly, when Glynis moved to Canada with her late husband in 1989.

A mother-of-one, Glynis said she and Tania were separated much earlier.

“We were little girls in Kensington, South Africa where we were born when our mother died of asthma. I was only seven and my sister was 10. Dad, who couldn’t accept the loss, also suffered and later died. As a result, my sister and I, in addition to a brother we also have, were cared for by the local church who sent us to different homes to be high,” says Tania.

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Tania (left) and Glynis were seven and 10 years old when they lost their mother.
Image Credit: Supplied

Separate fates

Growing up with different people in different homes, the siblings simply followed their separate destinies, too young to understand what life had ordered them to do.

“I was very small and I barely remember those days. But from what Glynis tells me now, we were playing in the driveway of our house with other neighborhood kids in the suburb where we lived. Of the three siblings, she said, I looked like my mother because we both had blond hair.

Glynis said their mother was the most generous soul she knows. “She was loved and respected by everyone in the community because she was always ready to reach out.”

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Glynis (left) says Tania looked like their mother as she also had blonde hair.
Image Credit: Supplied

“When she was suffering, she had only one wish: if we were ever offered up for adoption, we would all be together. But unfortunately that didn’t happen,” Tania added.

Extremely grateful

The siblings aren’t bitter about their situation, however. In fact, they are extremely grateful to the church and the families that raised them.

“I am very grateful to all the people who reached out to us during this difficult time. We were also very much loved in the different schools where we studied. This despite me being a bit rebellious,” said Tania.

She said she earned an associate degree in teaching and came to the UAE in 1991.

After working in a few nurseries in Dubai and Sharjah, Tania, a married mother of two, then joined a well-known school in Umm Al Quwain where she worked for 14 years.

The past beckons

She said it was in 2019 that she and Glynis made phone contact through a mutual friend from church. “She asked me to visit her in Canada. My husband and I were looking forward to the trip, but we couldn’t get our visas in time. We were all extremely disappointed. Then, when we got the visas the following year, COVID-19 hit, further derailing our plans.

Tania, who also happens to be a breast cancer survivor, said she was determined to travel once pandemic restrictions eased. Also, his visa is due to expire next year.

“That’s how the trip came together this time. What an experience it has been,” she said.

Undoubtedly, the reunion proves valuable as the sisters learn something about each other every day.

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The two sisters are making the most of their time together in Toronto.
Image Credit: Supplied

“Tania keeps taking pictures of us together,” Glynis said. “Wherever we go, she clicks, clicks, clicks.”

After reuniting, their next mission is to find their brother in South Africa.

“If all goes well, we hope to take a trip to our hometown soon and meet our brother and his family. We also want to revisit the church and the places where we grew up.

Clearly, the siblings yearn to make up for lost time. But while they are eager to embrace a shared future, their forgotten past also awaits them, waiting to be reclaimed.

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