ARMENIA -- A now single father is fighting to give his son, born with Down Syndrome, a life.
Leo Forrest was born on Jan. 21 in Armenia to an Aremnian mother and a father, Sam Forrest, from New Zealand. According to a Go Fund Me page set up by Sam, shortly after Leo's birth, his mother and her family abandoned him because of societal norms in Armenia.
"The mother refused to even look at or touch the newborn for fear of getting attached in a society where defects are not accepted, often bringing shame on the family involved" the Go Fund Me page reads.
"She told me if I kept him, then we would get a divorce," Sam Forrest told ABC News.
But Sam refused to abandon Leo, and wanted to raise him. Sam's wife filed for a divorce a week later.
With no money and in a foreign land, Sam set up a Go Fund Me page to send him and Leo back to New Zealand where they could give Leo the care he needs. Sam looked to raise enough money to get back to New Zealand and be able to care for the newborn for at least a year.
"With little work,no money, resources of family, and now no home, his father Sam wants to return to New Zealand with Leo, where Leo can have a quality of life and acceptance, integration into society that sadly is not yet possible in Armenia."
The Go Fund Me page quickly went viral, and as of Friday had raised $245,000. Sam posted a note on the page soon after going past the $60,000 goal.
Thanks everyone – we are stunned beyond words at the incredible support & love you’ve shown for little Leo.
9 days after we started our campaign, Leo and I found out in the wee hours of morning that we had crossed our target! He is a lucky guy to have the support of thousands of friends like you around the world.
Some of the additional funds that we have raised will be used to secure better living conditions in Auckland, and to give Leo higher quality opportunities when it comes to education - a good home and school cost money, but Leo will have all that and more, thanks to you.
We will use some of the money you've given to fund facilities and programs here in Armenia that will support future parents to keep their kids despite all disabilities, and to help better care for the special ones who end up away from their Mom & Dad. We’d also like to share the surplus funds with the only orphanage in Armenia that regularly takes abandoned Down Syndrome babies as well as other organisations that can help these children – thanks to your support we can start to make a difference already
Thanks again for your care and generosity!
Sam now hopes this story and support can go a long way in drawing attention to the problem of child abandonment in Armenia, a practice allegedly widespread in former Soviet Union countries.
"Health professionals estimate that 98% of all Down Syndrome babies born in Armenia are abandoned every year," the Go Fund Me page alleges. "These abandoned babies are often placed in squalid orphanages, where they live and die, rejected and forgotten by society."
For more information on how to donate to Leo, click here.