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Clockwise: Tania Jenkinson and Glynis Ruiters as little girls back in South Africa; their emotional reunion at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Canada on August 7; and the siblings on one of their many outings together since. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A UAE-based South African expat and her sister, orphaned and separated by circumstances when they were growing up, have reunited after 33 long years.

An overwhelmed Tania Jenkinson, a former teacher in Umm Al Quwain, and her sister Glynis Ruiters told Gulf News from Toronto, Canada, where they reunited on August 7, that they couldn’t believe they were together again.

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

Choked with tears and at a loss for words, the two women hugged and clung on to each other, unwilling to let go of the moment. And then, when they finally broke out of the embrace, Glynis, with tears trickling down her cheeks, kept running her fingers over Tania’s face, almost as if to reassure herself that her sister’s presence was for real.

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

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Long-lost sisters: Glynis Ruiters (in green) with Tania Jenkinson outside the Toronto airport. Image Credit: Screengrab.

Catch-up of a lifetime

As the overwhelmed duo headed to a coffee shop in the vicinity to gather themselves, it was the beginning of what could be described as the catch-up of a lifetime.

Indeed, the sisters have come a long way - and not least since they last saw each other, that too briefly, when Glynis left to settle down in Canada with her late husband in 1989.

A mother of one, Glynis said she and Tania were separated from each other much earlier.

“We were little girls back in Kensington of South Africa where we were born when our mum passed on due to asthma. I was just seven years old and my sister 10. Dad, who could not come to terms with the loss, also suffered and later died. As a result, my sister and I, besides a brother that we also have, came under the care of the local church which sent us to different homes to be raised,” recounted Tania.

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Tania (left) and Glynis were aged seven and 10 when they lost their mum. Image Credit: Supplied

Separate destinies

Growing up with different people in different homes, the siblings simply followed their separate destinies, too young to fathom what life had ordained for them.

“I was very small and can barely remember those days. But from what Glynis tells me now, we would play in the driveway of our house with other neighbourhood kids in the suburbs where we lived. Of the three siblings, she says, I looked like my mum as we both had blonde hair.”

Glynis said their mum was the most kind-hearted soul she knew. “She was loved and respected by all in the community as she was always ready to extend a helping hand.”

Glynis (right) says Tania looked like their mum as she had blonde hair too. Image Credit: Supplied

“When she was suffering, she only had one wish that if we were ever put up for adoption, we should all be together. But unfortunately that did not happen,” added Tania.

Extremely grateful

The siblings are not bitter about their circumstances though. In fact, they are extremely grateful to the church and the families that raised them.

“I am very thankful to all the people who reached out to us in our time of need. We were also very loved at the different schools we studied in. This despite me being a bit rebellious,” let on Tania.

She said she acquired an associated degree in teaching and first came to the UAE in 1991.

Having worked in a couple of nurseries in Dubai and Sharjah, Tania, who is married with two children, went on to join a well-known school in Umm Al Quwain where she worked for 14 years.

The past beckons

She said it was in 2019 that Glynis and she established phone contact through a common friend from church. “She asked me to visit her in Canada. My husband and I were keen to take the trip, but we could not get our visas on time. We were all hugely disappointed. Then, when we did get the visas the next year, COVID-19 struck, derailing our plans yet again.”

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

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

No doubt, the reunion is proving to be precious as the sisters are learning something about each other everyday.

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

“Tania can’t stop taking photos of us together,” said Glynis. “Wherever we go, she goes click, click, click.”

Having found each other now, their next mission is to reunite with their brother in South Africa.

“All things permitting, we hope to undertake a trip to our hometown sometime soon and meet our brother and his family. We also want to revisit the church and the places where we grew up in.”

Clearly, the siblings yearn to make up for their lost time. But as they look forward to embracing a shared future, their forgotten past also beckons, waiting to be reclaimed.