Maly and Nhean are like many Cambodian rural couples. They are well established members of their community, known and respected by their neighbors and involved in community life. They are subsistence farmers who supplement their income during the year with extra jobs. Nhean works as motodop – a motorbike taxi ferrying neighbors and visitors to the markets and around the village. Maly worked in a garment factory in one of the industrial zones near the border with Vietnam.
Like many in Svay Rieng, they live in a raised house to protect against flooding in wet season and to allow them to access the cooler breeze in dry season. They gather to cook, wash clothes and chat together in the shade under the main living area. Vegetables grow around the edges of the property. Pigs and chickens live in separate buildings. Behind the main living area, rice fields stretch into the distance. Maly and Nhean share the property with their extended family – Maly’s parents and her sister. There are 7 adults in the house. Their life is pretty good. But until 3 years ago, there was one thing missing. Maly and Nhean had been married for 8 years and they had not been able to have a child.
“There were only old people in the house before. It was a silent place.” Maly tells us.
A strong bond
Now the sound of laughter fills the air as Maly, Nhean and the grandparents watch Samnang playing with a ball. Samnang entered the family almost 2 and a half years ago. When we approach and try to say to say hi, Samnang dives behind his mother’s skirt. His father picks him up to draw him out and he buries his head in his father’s shoulder.
This shyness is one of the key indicators that CIF staff look for when assessing whether a child has bonded with their foster families. It shows that the child knows that their parents are safe people, and will protect them from harm. At age 2, children should be showing signs of normal, developmental separation anxiety and the neighbors are very quick to tell us about how much Samnang cries when Maly has to leave the property. Today, however, we don’t need to use these indicators as the joy that Samnang brings to the family is quite clear.
Maly continues her reflection:
“The local church gave us the information about Children in Families and asked us if we would come to a meeting to think about registering to become foster parents. It was an easy decision. We really wanted to do it.”
Maly and Nhean met the CIF foster care criteria and were accepted as foster carers. After completing the foster care training we require, Maly and Nhean waited to be placed with a child. They were keen to be parents and to take responsibility for any child in their care.
The lucky child
“After we had done the training, we got a phone call from Kunthea. Samnang was at the Emergency Care house and needed a family. Were we interested? We said yes and they brought the child to us. He was just under 3 months old when he arrived. I quit my job at the garment factory so I could look after him.”
It’s not only Samnang’s parents who dote on him. His grandparents, his 5-year-old cousin, and the neighbors’ children all crowd around for a chance to play with him. The neighbors refer to Samnang as “the lucky child” – lucky to have parents and extended family who love him this way. Maly and Nhean are very excited domestic adoption has started again. They are keen to start the process to see Samnang recognized as a legal part of their family, where he belongs.
“We used to be quiet, but now we are a bright, happy family.”