12/17/2012 01:37 EST | Updated 02/16/2013 05:12 EST

Mom finally reunited with kids taken to Zimbabwe eight months ago

TORONTO - A mom reunited with her two kids after eight months broke down Monday as she thanked those who helped bring the family back together in time for the holidays.

Biatra Muzabazi said she thought she would never get her boy and girl back from Zimbabwe, where they had gone on vacation in April but not returned.

"I never thought (I'd see) my children again," Muzabazi said, clutching her kids and choking back tears.

"You made it possible for me to be with my children for Christmas."

The saga began in April, when Rene, 7, and Shane, 4, went for a visit to Muzabazi's native Zimbabwe, something that had occurred several times before without incident.

This time, however, the divorced mother began to worry when the children, who were born in Mississauga, Ont., were not returned to Canada as scheduled.

Instead, paternal family members placed the kids in a Zimbabwean boarding school, which actively hid them from local authorities, police allege.

In September, the worried mother approached Toronto police, who began investigating. They in turn contacted government officials, the RCMP and Interpol.

Det.-Const. Shari Nevills, the lead investigator, said it was a steep learning curve dealing with Zimbabwean laws.

"I had several moments when I really didn't think these kids were coming home," Nevills said.

Police decided the best way to effect a possible return was to send Muzabazi to Zimbabwe, even raising the money to help make that happen.

Muzabazi's mother, who lives in the southern African country, helped obtain needed documentation and Zimbabwean authorities accepted the children belonged with their mother in Canada.

However, the paternal family wasn't ready to turn them over.

At one point, as Muzabazi waited outside the boarding school, a family member took the kids and fled.

Running out of money and needing to get back to work, the distraught mother said she was on the verge of giving up and returning to Canada without her children.

Then, the Canadian embassy in Harare called her last week to say the children had been dropped off there.

"I just started crying. I couldn't believe it," she said.

Reunification and the trip back to Canada followed within days.

As the wide-eyed young ones clutched their mother and watched the throng of news people, Muzabazi said her daughter still appears fretful about any separation.

"She just can't go far away from me," Muzabazi said.

"She just wants to be with me all the time."

Police Chief Bill Blair called it a "good story with a great ending."

A criminal investigation was ongoing, police said.