HEALTH -- November 22, 2011 at 12:11 PM ET
Update: Separated Twin Sisters Reunite in Vietnam
Isabella (right) and her twin sister Ha were reunited this year.
When the NewsHour's global health team first met 13-year-old Isabella Solimene, she shared a memorable story of being separated from her twin sister as a baby in Vietnam.
Isabella was adopted from an orphanage near Saigon at the age of 4 by an American family, the Solimenes, who moved her to a new home in Illinois. The family later learned Isabella has a twin sister still living in Vietnam, and planned to one day reunite the girls.
She shared her story with the NewsHour at an event in Chicago for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that teaches American teens about the challenges for girls their age around the world.
For Isabella, the campaign felt personal because of her twin sister, Ha.
"I just wanted to help, not just her, but other adolescent girls around the world," she said at the event. "There's a huge difference between our lives."
Watch the rest of the report below:
Watch Girl Up Campaign Helps Teens Empower Peers Around the Globe on PBS. See more from PBS NEWSHOUR.
After our report aired, Isabella's family was even more motivated to try to reunite them, and in late September she and her parents traveled to Vietnam. Ha was so excited that she took the three hour trip to the airport to greet Isabella in person.
"We met as I got my bags and walked out -- she was right there," Isabelle told the NewsHour in a phone interview after her trip. "It was emotional for her, it was emotional for me, but I just didn't share my emotions at the moment. She was crying a lot, but I didn't shed a tear. It was overwhelming."
In the coming days, as Ha showed Isabella her village and the two bonded, Isabella started to process everything.
"I think it all hit me when I started visiting her village and being able to see how she lives her everyday life and her school," she said. "Those were both sad and happy moments, but what really matters is that she was very happy living where she was."
One of the highlights for the girls was when they discovered their mutual love for soccer and played together. They both also share a strong commitment to education and enjoy school. Ha showed Isabella how she cares for her caretakers' chickens each day, but Isabella was not a big fan of the birds.
"I personally don't like chickens and I don't work with them everyday," she said. "Ha knew how to touch the chickens, she takes care of the chickens and feeds them and gives them water."
Isabella credited the Girl Up campaign for helping prepare her for some of the poverty she witnessed in Vietnam. Learning about living conditions around the world for the last year gave her some insight into what rural life would be like.
There were some surprises on the trip -- Isabella learned her real birthday is 22 days earlier than the date she has been celebrating all her life. And her mother, Keely, was surprised to see the girls were competitive at times as they tried to figure out the best way to relate to each other.
The goodbye was the hardest, said Isabella, but it wasn't a goodbye forever. The Solimene family gave Ha a computer during their visit, with an Internet toggle so she can email and Skype with the family. Now Isabelle Skypes with Ha every Saturday night and they catch up on the week's events.
One of Ha's favorite things to talk about is the new school the Solimene family enrolled her in that provides a much better level of education than the village school.
Keely hopes others will be able to learn from the family's experience, especially the steps they took to give Ha a better education.
"For a very insignificant amount of money and little effort I think we'll make a lifetime of change for her," she said. "I think it's important people recognize that it really doesn't take a lot to change the lives of these girls."
As for Isabella, she is looking forward to the next time the family will visit Vietnam and she will get to see her sister again.
"I had a lot of happy moments with Ha," she said. "It was a great experience."
Read more on our Global Health page.