CHHAY GOES HOME
Baby found abandoned at just 5 days old is reunited with his parents a year later after they see a Facebook post by CCF about his plight
With a gentle lift, baby Chhay was passed into his waiting mother’s arms. And in a matter of seconds, a family was reunited after almost a year.
It was a moment that Chhay’s parents had prayed for, imagined for months, but hardly dared hope for until now.
It was also the first time that CCF has been able to return an apparently abandoned child to their natural parents.
Chhay was found wrapped in blankets next to rubbish bins in the centre of Phnom Penh one late afternoon in June last year. Luckily, the newborn had been spotted by a father from the CCF community who was out working selling fruit that evening in the area and rescued the crying infant.
After consultation with authorities, it was agreed that CCF would care for the baby while attempts were made to trace his birth parents.
Chhay, it seemed, was an unwanted baby, abandoned by his parents at just five days old.
In another part of Phnom Penh, Chhay’s mum was frantically looking for her son, who had gone missing from her aunt’s home, where they were staying.
“The last time I saw him, I was falling asleep and my baby was next to me,” says his mum, Maly. “When I woke up, he was gone.”
Also missing was the boy’s aunt.
Several days later, Chhay’s dad spotted a Facebook post by CCF founder and Executive Director Scott Neeson about Chhay with a photo of the tiny baby in his arms and, recognising his son, got in touch.
It would take almost a year before the family would be permanently together again as authorities required definitive legal proof of Chhay’s parentage.
“We had to ensure due diligence to ensure a baby is going to a safe home and with his real parents,” said Scott Neeson.
While Chhay was cared for at CCF’s nursery, his father, Ratana, would visit regularly under supervision to spend time with his growing son, travelling from their home in Kampong Speu Province, around 45km from Phnom Penh.
A DNA test in April – paid for by Chhay’s parents – was the final piece needed, proving beyond doubt that Ratana was Chhay’s father.
Chhay rejoined his parents at a special ceremony in CCF, attended by staff from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, which had been working closely with CCF on Chhay’s case.
It was a bittersweet moment for the two carers who had looked after Chhay at CCF, as they said goodbye to the little man they had raised for almost a year and seen become a healthy little boy with a cheeky smile. Both were in tears as they kissed him farewell.
“It’s very sad but we are very happy to see the reintegration,” said Um Yu Socheata, from the Ministry, which will monitor Chhay’s progress.
“Cases of abandoned babies are very, very rare and we usually cannot find the parents.”
As Chhay’s parents looked on, Scott Neeson, said: “This is a wonderful, unique situation where we are able to reintegrate with the natural parents, which is a first for us.”
“We are going to miss Chhay but he is where he should be. It’s a happy ending.”
Hoy Leanghoin, CCF’s Community Outreach Manager, said CCF would continue to support Chhay and his family in the future and keep an eye on him.
Holding her son in her arms, Chhay’s mum, Maly, 24, was smiling through her own tears.
“I am so happy to get my son,” she said. “We have been apart for a long time.
“I have been numb since he was gone. I cannot describe the emotions I now feel.”
She said her aunt, who took the baby due to conflict in the family, is now believed to be in Thailand.
Her husband, 27, who works in microfinance, said they had a “whole year to catch up on.”
The young couple must get used to being instant parents to a toddler, who was only a baby when they were last together. They were reunited in time to celebrate Chhay’s first birthday on June 18th.
“I will be a good dad,” said Chhay’s father, kissing his son gently on the cheek.
A few days later, the couple sent a selfie with Chhay, the proud parents smiling at the camera with their young son just like any other family.
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