Former peacekeeper Ben Farinazzo, 22 years later, reunites with Timor-Leste man he helped deliver
On a stormy night 22 years ago, Ben Farinazzo’s work as a peacekeeper in Timor-Leste took an unexpected turn.
After learning that locals were looking for him, Mr. Farinazzo found three people standing near the front door of their camp.
He was greeted by a man and two women, one of whom was very pregnant.
“Her name was Umbelina and her husband and mother had accompanied her from the hills in the heavy rain, as she was about to have her baby,” he wrote on social networks this week.
“They had been in hiding for over a month, surviving on boiled tree roots.”
Mr Farinazzo was part of the Australian peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste, then known as East Timor, after violence erupted following a nationwide vote in favor of independence for the ‘Indonesia.
What happened next that night was something that even Mr. Farinazzo admits no military training could have prepared him for.
“Eventually a healthy little boy arrived and the storm stopped,” he said.
“It was a strong reminder that despite the terrible conditions, this life could and should go on.
“A beautiful little boy, born on the cold concrete floor of a burnt-out classroom in the midst of a raging storm – a symbol of hope, new life and new beginnings.”
The family were so grateful for his help that they asked Mr. Farinazzo to name him, but he politely declined.
Before returning to Australia, Mr Farinazzo visited the family “to make sure they were okay”, also giving them a package of care.
Even after returning from Timor-Leste, the retired captain wondered what had happened to “Baby Benjamin” and his family.
“I often think of him and his family. I wonder if he’s still alive and what his life is like,” he told the Australian War Memorial in 2019.
Little did he know that the power of social media would mean he would ever see Baby Benjamin again.
Post goes viral in Timor-Leste
Mr Farinazzo publishes every year on September 20 to mark the anniversary of the East Timorese International Force (INTERFET) – the day Australian peacekeepers land in Dili.
He told the ABC that his posts usually don’t attract as much success, but something different happened this year.
He said he saw this starting to be shared widely between accounts in Timor-Leste.
Then, Thursday evening, Mr. Farinazzo received a message that shocked him.
“I was with my wife saying, ‘No, no, no, no,'” he told the ABC.
“I could not believe it.”
Baby Benjamin had held out his hand.
“He is doing well and so are his parents. He is studying engineering at the National University of Timor-Leste in Dili.”
Mr Farinazzo said he ended up making a video call with Baby Benjamin, who told him his mum and dad had sent him greetings and hadn’t forgotten him either.
“He’s never seen any photos from the day he was born, so I showed him the ones I have,” he said.
As for a face-to-face meeting, Mr Farinazzo said he looks forward to the day, if COVID-9 border restrictions allow, they could meet face to face.