or our first instalment of Charities of the Season we looked at some of the critical, groundbreaking work being carried out in children’s medicine in the UK. For Spring we’re venturing further afield – with a charity that helps children who not only lack sophisticated medical care, but even the most basic of life’s essentials.
According to SOS Children, there are an estimated 132 million children worldwide who have been orphaned by disaster, disease or poverty, or abandoned on the streets by their parents. As a parent it’s difficult – upsetting, even – to imagine a child, perhaps the same age as your own, wandering the streets alone with no one to turn to for help. But in many parts of the world this is the harsh reality.
SOS Children was founded in 1949, to help children who had been orphaned by the second world war, and it now cares for more than 70,000 children in 125 countries around the world. It is the world’s largest orphaned and abandoned children’s charity.
Life is tough for children without parents – such children are less likely to be educated, more likely to be forced into unpaid work and are at greater risk of health problems, as well as exploitation and abuse. SOS Children, which was described by the Dalai Lama as, “a charity where deeds speak louder than words”, takes a unique approach to improving the lives of lone children. The charity creates Children’s Villages, where groups of children are cared for within family units, run by an SOS mother. Each village consists of ten to fifteen family homes, a nursery, primary and secondary school and a medical centre. These facilities can also be used by children from the local community whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to send them to school or to see a doctor.
The family mothers are crucial to the lives of the children – they provide a proper home and stable family life for the children in their care and they need to be able to meet their physical and emotional needs from infancy to adulthood. SOS mothers are carefully chosen and undertake lengthy training. They are paid a salary and run their own household with a family budget. Each mother looks after between four and ten children, and they must dedicate their lives to raising a generation of children as though they were their own.
As well as taking care of the children’s basic physical needs, SOS Children aims to cater for their psychological needs. “Every child is provided with a mother, brothers, sisters and a family home, and every day we see children completely transformed thanks to the love and care of their new ‘mum’. We’ve pioneered family-based care which is designed to provide a child with everything he or she might need, right up to independence.” When young people are old enough to leave the village, they stay in SOS Youth Homes until they are ready for independent life.
As well as running their unique villages, SOS Children also offers skills, training, education, counselling, micro-loans and improved nutrition to vulnerable families so that they are able to provide for their children and stay together through difficult times. Over the past two decades, in response to crisis, war and disaster, SOS Children has carried out more than 100 emergency relief programmes to support children and families in need. With an established presence in so many countries around the world, they have been well positioned to respond quickly and effectively to disasters like the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. SOS Children provides both immediate support including food, shelter and help to reunite families, and involvement with long-term reconstruction efforts.
This year, SOS Children are launching a new campaign called Mums Matter, to highlight the importance of stable and loving homes for children in need. “A great mum can help you to become a success in the life you want to lead and we need your help to make sure that more children around the world have a mum.”
“Instead of giving a traditional gift this Mother’s Day, why not consider donating to SOS Children and helping us train and equip an SOS mother to look after children who are completely alone? You could give this unique gift to your own mother; or in remembrance of someone special in your life.”
- Odette is currently raising ten children in an SOS Children's Village in Rwanda. Odette was widowed when her husband was murdered during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She managed to flee to neighbouring Burundi and, since returning to Rwanda, has dedicated her life to raising orphaned and abandoned children. Having lost her own husband, Odette is only too aware that families can be broken up by tragic circumstance and this has been a driving force in her motivation to help others in need. Odette's parenting philosophy is simple – children need two things: to be loved, and to be well fed.
- Mary is 14 and lives in an SOS Children's Village in the Philippines. Her biological father died when she was one and her mother left her to try to find a job. She never returned. For a while Mary lived with her grandmother, who sold vegetables at the local market and earned very little. With her grandmother’s meagre income, Mary was forced to fetch and sell water in order to pay for the bus to school. Eventually, Mary came to live in the SOS Children's Village. Today, she is in her third year at secondary school and is doing well with her studies. She is one of the youth leaders in the Village and when asked about her life at the SOS Children's Village, she said, “Words cannot describe how much love and support I have received from my SOS family and mother. I am thankful to SOS Children for giving me a safe home, education and a secure future.”
To find out more about SOS Children, including information on donating and sponsoring children, go to www.soschildren.org