Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A story of love beyond disability

By Patricia Chourio

Ms. Kim Sareth has been Sorya’s foster mom for almost two years
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

At around 2 P.M., Sorya* is woken from his nap by his foster mother; it’s time for his afternoon snack. He’s fuzzy at first, but once he hears his foster mother’s soothing voice he smiles, and starts feeding from his baby bottle. Sorya loves food, especially fried vegetables and pumpkin soup. Although only three years old, he has already experienced much hardship. Sorya was born with cerebral palsy and due to his parents’ lack of confidence in their capacity to care for him, he was abandoned at Angkor Hospital for Children when he was around nine months old.

Because of his condition, Sorya is unable to walk, speak, see or do the things other children his age can do. He has been under the care of Ms. Kim Sareth and her husband for about two years.

The family lives in Siem Reap province. Ms. Sareth’s husband grows and sells plants in their village, so their house is surrounded by a beautiful garden and tall trees that provide respite from the scorching sun during the day. They have two children of their own, a 23-year-old son who works as a tuk tuk driver for a major hotel in Siem Reap, and a 14-year-old daughter who attends high school and is currently in grade 7. They have been taking care of Sorya for almost two years and he has become a much loved member of their family.

When Sorya was first abandoned, the social work unit at Angkor Hospital for Children worked tirelessly to trace his family. Unfortunately, Sorya is not the first case of abandonment the team has worked on. Since the unit was established in

2010, the team has seen many cases of parents leaving their children in the hospital’s waiting area. In 2015 alone, the unit responded to 20 cases of child abandonment.

The waiting area at Angkor Hospital in Siem Reap. Most of the
abandoned children brought to this hospital at are left in this space.
UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

According to the social work unit lead, Mr. Sokchea, there are many factors that influence a family to leave their child in the hospital’s care, including: poverty, social norms (for example, if the child is born out of wedlock), lack of information about support services available to the family, violence, or the belief that a child born with disabilities could bring bad luck to the family.

The social work unit’s first concern is to ensure that an abandoned baby is safe and is provided with the medical care he or she needs. When the baby is stable, they begin the family tracing process, which can take several days, to several months. Once the team is able to get in touch with the family, they offer counselling and support, with the aim of reunifying the baby into the family’s care. It can take many meetings before a family feels confident to receive their child back. The social workers go above and beyond to accomplish reunification; not only do they perform their duties as social workers, they must also act as detectives, counsellors, confidants and friends to the families they work with.

To provide the families with the holistic social support needed for long-lasting reunification, the hospital works with UNICEF’s Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children (3PC) Siem Reap partner, Kaliyan Mith. Together, they work to address the reasons for abandonment, and provide support services to ensure families feel 100 per cent ready to receive their child back.

Services provided include: counselling, house renovation, temporary food and material support, income generation, etc. Where families reject or do not yet feel ready to receive their child back, Kaliyan Mith places the baby with a trained temporary foster care family, as in the case of Sorya.

While Sorya is in temporary foster care, Kaliyan Mith continues working with his biological family and extended relatives to explore possibilities for reunification.

Kaliyan Mith also provide ongoing support to the foster care families, including counselling, food and hygiene materials for the child in their care, trainings on hygiene, nutrition, child rights, etc. They also connect foster families with other organizations who provide specialised additional support. In Sorya’s case, Kaliyan Mith partnered with Safe Haven Medical Outreach, which provides ongoing physical therapy, play therapy and feeding training to Sorya and his foster family.

Ms. Kim Sareth and Sorya
© UNICEF Cambodia/2016/Patricia Chourio

Sorya’s biological mother and other relatives have visited him several times since he has been under Ms. Sareth’s care, but unfortunately, the family is still not ready to take him back. Whilst cases of abandonment often prove amongst the hardest to reunify, Angkor Hospital for Children and Kaliyan Mith have worked together on many successful cases of reunification since the partnership was developed in 2012.

Kaliyan Mith continues to work with Sorya’s family and relatives to support them to receive Sorya back into their care, but for the time being, Sorya has the unconditional love and care of Ms. Sareth. Although taking care of Sorya has been challenging at times, Ms. Sareth says it’s all worth it: “Sometimes I call his name from the other room and he recognizes my voice, he lifts his head and I can see him searching for me” she says. “That makes it all worth it, my heart is full every time I see him”.

UNICEF works with the Royal Government of Cambodia and NGOs from the Partnership Programme for the Protection of Children (3 PC) Network to provide separated children with family-based care as an alternative to the rising institutionalisation of vulnerable and abandoned children.

Children younger than three are prioritised, as decades of global research have demonstrated the damaging effects of institutionalisation on the child during this developmentally critical period. UNICEF’s partners also prioritise children with disabilities, such as Sorya, who are often amongst the most marginalised in society.

*Names changed to protect identities

1 comment:

  1. That story really good! From this story I missing to past time with my younger bother that the case me make feel unwell up on today. Let me share with about him, but I'm really sorry that I can't write English well. So let me share in Khmer.
    ប្អូនប្រុសខ្មុំ​ បានចាក់ថ្នាំ វ៉ាក់សាំង​ តាំងតែពីមកប្រហែលអាយុ 2-3ឆ្នាំ (មិនសូវច្បាស់)។ ប្អូនខ្ញុំរត់លេងដូចធម្មតា តែក្រោយមកគាត់ចាប់ផ្តើមក្តៅខ្លួន តែពួកក៏មិនសូវជាបារម្ភដែរ ព្រោះពេកចាក់ថ្នាំ ពេទ្យបានប្រាប់ដែរ ថាបន្ទាប់ពីចាក់ថ្នាំទៅអាចនឹងមានក្តៅខ្លួនតិចតួច ហើយពេទ្យអោយថ្នាំទុកបំរុងដែរ។ ពេលនោះម្តាយខ្ញុំគ្រាន់មកថ្នាំនោះមកកិនអោយប្អូនខ្ញុំផឹក ដោយគិតថាមុខជាត្រជាក់ខ្លួនដូចធម្មតាវិញហើយ។ តែជាអកុសល គាត់នៅតែមិនបាត់ថែមទាំងក្តៅខ្លួនរហូតដល់ប្រកាច់ទៀត ម្តាយ និងឪពុក បាននាំគាត់ពេលព្យាយាមជាច្រើនកន្លែង និងបានខ្លីលុយបងប្អូនអស់ជាច្រើន ដើម្បីមើលថែប្អូនខ្ញុំ តែចុងបញ្ចប់គឺគ្រាន់តែអាចអោយគាត់អាចដើរបាន តែមិនដូចក្មេងផ្សេងទៀតទេ។ ប្អូនខ្ញុំ បានស្វិតជើងម្តាងទៅហើយ ទោះបីជាជើងរបស់គាត់ម្ខាងធំលូតលាស់ទៅវ័យរបស់ហើយក៏ដោយ ក៏ជើងម្ខាងទៀតរបស់គាត់មិនអាចតាមទាន់វ័យរបស់គាត់ និងមិនអាចលូតលាស់ធំស្មើគ្នាបានដោយ។ នេះជារឿងដែរធ្វើគ្រួសារខ្ញុំ មានការអន់ចិត្តណាស់ ព្រោះយើងគិតថាការចាក់វ៉ាក់សាំង សំរាប់ក្មេងជារឿងល្អ ជួយការពារក្មេងអោយរឹងមាំ និងសុខភាពល្អ តែហេតុអ្វីបានជាប្អូន ក្នុងចំណោមរាប់រយ ដែលបានទទួលវាសនា បែបនេះ។​
    ពេលនេះប្អូនមានអាយុ 20 ឆ្នាំជាងហើយ។
    អ្វីដែលខ្ញុំប្រាថ្នាចង់បានសំរាប់ប្អូនប្រុសរបស់ខ្ញុំនោះគឺ ចង់ឃើញគាត់មានជើងទាំងពីរ ធំល្អស្មើគ្នា ដូចពេលគាត់ទើបចាប់កំណើរអញ្ចឹង។
    អរគុណមែនទែន ដែលបានសរសេររឿងរបស់កល្យាញខាងលើនោះ ធ្វើអោយខ្ញុំនឹកឃើញដល់រឿងរបស់ប្អូនខ្ញុំ ហើយសរសេរប្រាប់ពីទុក្ខដែលបានក្នុងចិត្តនមកជាយូរ ចេញមកក្រៅ។