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Swim Day for Cambodia Foster Care

Every quarter, the children in our Cambodia foster care program head to the swimming pool for a much-anticipated Swim Day. Swim Day is a time to play and forget their struggles. Foster parents get in with the children to both keep them safe and encourage that much needed physical touch that aids in bonding.

The children in our foster care programs, who range in age from 1 to 14 years old, have known true hardship. Many are orphaned, and some have tragically witnessed the death of a parent. Those in our Safe Haven program endured trafficking, living on the streets, or severe abuse. All of the children in this program have sadly experienced trauma, and we know the importance of physical activity to benefit mental health. Swim Day allows the children to be with siblings, friends and foster families in a safe and fun environment, and get to play as kids should.

When LWB team member Amanda Spangler and I were in Cambodia to visit the foster homes and provide foster parent training, we were able to participate in Swim Day. Our trip ended with this highlight, and we had such a great time!

The smallest children spent most of their time in the little splash pool that was only a few inches deep. They rushed down the slide one right after another in quick succession.

The oldest kids quickly found their way to the deep end of the larger pool where they showed off their swim skills and held mini races.

The other end of that pool had a shallow area where even two-year-olds could stand. Capable swimmers splashed and dunked while foster parents climbed into the pool and carried non-swimmers around.

The sister sibling group of Sonia, Sienna, and Selena have a lovely young foster mother. She is a first-time single mom to her own biological baby girl and now has three girls in her care who are dealing with grief over being separated from their mother. Upon moving in with her, these three sisters also didn’t speak Khmer as their first language is Thai.

The foster mother expressed to us during the training the previous day that she was very concerned about how to connect with the girls. We were impressed with her heart and concern for the girls and their ability to bridge the language gap, communicate, and grieve their past. She was reassured when we told her that it takes time and perseverance for attachment to form.

This young mother came to the swim day with her baby in her arms, so some teen volunteers and other foster parents helped with Sienna and Selena in the water. When the baby was finally willing to sit on the edge of the pool with her mother, Sienna and Selena quickly rushed to be by their side and play with their foster mother. Foster and adoptive parents know the satisfaction it brings to see the children in their care finally want to be near them, and this satisfaction was clear on this new foster mother’s face as she made note of their closeness as well.

In time, it’s likely that seven-year-old Sonia will come around, too. The language barrier has been an issue for her in forming an attachment with her foster mother, but as I played a game with Sonia, I could tell she is a bright little girl who is quick to catch on. I had many girls climb on my back or want to be carried around in the deeper water, and we came up with a dunking game. I would slowly count to three, dunk underwater while holding them close, and then pop back up high out of the water. The children would giggle and start counting to do it again. By the second try, Sonia was already counting to three in English and repeating the “good job” I had said to her. (I tried to learn the same in Khmer and couldn’t get it right!)

I came away from my time with the children impressed with their resilience, joy, and strength.  They are an inspiration, and I’m so grateful to all the faithful foster care sponsors who help provide a safe home for these beautiful children.

~Kelly Eckert is the Cambodia Foster Care Manager for Love Without Boundaries

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