17th June 2019 might not sound like a special date, but it’s one the Sok family will never forget. It’s the day that 13 year old Mesa* returned to the family who thought he had died as an infant. Mesa had spent all those years living in one of the many residential care centres (often called orphanages) that are still scattered across Cambodia, not knowing that he still had a family out there. It took months of hard investigative work before our This Life Reuniting Families team located his older sister, Chanthea, and told her the incredible news that Mesa was still alive.
“We thought he died when he was a baby,” Chanthea remembers. Mesa’s birth came at a very difficult time for the family. His mother died shortly after and his surviving sisters went through a period of grief, trying to cope with their own loss and responsibilities at a very young age and without external support. “When he was a year and three months old he got sick and went into the hospital. We didn’t hear from them again, and heard that he had died.”
In fact, Mesa recovered and went to live in a residential care institution in Siem Reap. He is one of many thousands of children in Cambodia currently living in residential care even though parents or extended family are still alive. Our This Life Reuniting Families team, funded by USAID as part of the Family Care First Network in Collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth, is now working with families who will be imminently reunited, hopefully creating reunions as beautiful as this one.
As soon as we met Chanthea, she said she would love to have her little brother back in her family. Though exciting, reunifying a family creates huge changes and challenges for everyone concerned. That’s why we patiently worked to advise them, arranging several opportunities for them to meet and get to know each other. We assessed Mesa’s new home, and helped Chanthea create a small business which would allow her to financially support her existing family and its newest arrival.
On Monday the big move took place, and the joy was evident. “Being separated really hurts a family,” Chanthea says, “but I’m really happy we are together again now. We have lots of plans for him. He’ll go to a local school, make new friends here, and we’ll take care of him and bring him up to be a good person.”
Mesa puts it all more simply. “I’m so happy.”
* All names have been changed to protect the child’s right to privacy.