Cambodian Children’s Fund helps granny aged 98 meet her 101-year-old sister for the first time in 47 years

This is the emotional moment CCF brings together two sisters, aged 98 and 101, for the first time in 47 years after both believed the other had died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Granny Bun Sen (pictured left), one of CCF’s much-loved grandmothers, had long given up hope of seeing her older sister ever again.

There were tears of joy as the sisters held each other tight and the decades slipped away to the time they last saw each other.

That was 1973 – two years before the brutal Khmer Rouge would sweep into Cambodia and rule for four years. In the turmoil that followed, millions of people were killed.

The sisters thought both were among those who didn’t make it.

Now, 47 years later, the sisters have been brought back together. It was thanks to CCF staff, who tracked down Granny Bun Sen’s family and discovered that not only was her 101-year-old sister still alive but, incredibly, her brother, aged 92, was too.

Granny Bun Sen (centre) sitting between her brother, 92, and sister Bun Chea, 98, in Kampong Cham.

They were also still living in the same village.

As Granny Bun Sen embraced her sister, Granny Bun Chea, after travelling from her home in Steung Meanchey, Phnom Penh, to Kampong Cham, there was hardly a dry eye in the village.

The remarkable end to the story was one no-one expected.

Granny Bun Sen (left) and her 101-year-old sister Bun Chea.

“I left my village a long time ago and never went back. I always thought my sisters and brothers had died,” said Granny Bun Sen.

“To be able to hold my older sister means so much. And the first time my younger brother touched my hand, I started crying.”

Granny Bun Sen, who is supported by CCF in its Granny Program, never returned to her village after being displaced by the Khmer Rouge.

Both sisters survived the regime but believed the other had died.

Granny Bun Sen lost her husband to the Khmer Rouge and eventually settled in Steung Meanchey in the communities around the former garbage dump.

She was one of the first grannies to join CCF in 2004. At the time, she was still earning a living scavenging through trash on the streets of Phnom Penh.

Granny Bun Sen pictured in Steung Meanchey in 2008.

She was caring for many children who had been left on the dump and introduced Scott Neeson, CCF Founder and Executive Director, to vulnerable children and families. This included the very first CCF student, Sreynich, who has now graduated from university.

She became Scott Neeson’s trusted ears and eyes on the ground of who needed help.

Granny Bun Sen with CCF Founder and Executive Director, Scott Neeson, and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, during his visit to CCF in 2013.

Granny Bun Sen always believed her siblings had died during the Khmer Rouge. She would often talk about her home village in Kampong Cham and her wish to return there one day. As she is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair, it was difficult for her to make the journey.

CCF’s Community Outreach Manager, Hoy Leanghoin, recently offered to arrange a visit and discovered that some of Granny Bun Sen’s family were in fact alive and still living in the same village.

Last week, CCF took Granny Bun Sen to Kampong Cham where she was reunited with her sister, Bun Chea, and brother, reconnecting with old family and meeting new ones that she didn’t know about.

Granny Bun Chea, whose husband was also killed by the Khmer Rouge leaving her a widow with 12 children, said she too believed her younger sister was dead.

“We had 13 relatives killed from Pol Pot and we thought that she [Bun Sen] had been too. It has been such a long time. We talked about her but I never thought we would see her again.”

Now that the sisters have found one another, they have no intention of losing each other again.

They’ve already had a second get-together, organised by CCF.

This time, Bun Chea made the journey to Steung Meanchey to see her sister. They also had a city tour of Phnom Penh, arranged by CCF.

Granny Bun Sen continues to be part of CCF as a “special grandmother” and is supported with a stipend, food and housing.

Srey Nich, the first CCF child, with Granny Bun Sen and Scott Neeson, May 2019, in Granny Bun Sen’s home in Steung Meanchey

She has eight children with four daughters still alive, and too many grandchildren and great grandchildren to count.

“Without CCF, I would have had no chance to find my older sister,” she said. “I am so happy.”

CCF’s Community Outreach Manager, Hoy Leanghoin, said: “We were very happy to reunite Granny Bun Sen with her family. She missed her sister very much.”

Scott Neeson, CCF’s Founder, added: “It’s remarkable. Granny Bun Sen was the original, the first granny I met when I came to Steung Meanchey in 2004, and we’ve been supporting her ever since. She’s a wonderful woman.”

Kate Ginn/CCF

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