“Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind.” ―Howard W. Hunter
This famous quote by Howard W Hunter is what came to my mind after my visit to 8-acre SOS Children’s Village, on the outskirts of Delhi. An organisation which has its roots in the Second World War, the concept behind SOS is a well-thought out one, giving the organization a strong foundation.
Simply put, SOS Children’s Villages is a home for abandoned and orphaned children. Through it’s two key programmes, its aims to provide the best possible care to every child.
The first is the Family Based Care (FBC). Under FBC, children of different age groups live together (in clusters) as brothers and sisters with a mother. Every cluster lives in its own house and is given a middle class family budget to meet its household needs and requirements. What sets it apart is that it offers an environment akin to that of a regular family. With the children and mother staying together, sharing responsibilities as well as sadness and joys, they have a sense of belongingness. The house thus becomes a home! SOS maintains a 1:10 mother to child ratio; each village at present has 4 clusters, comprising of 20 family houses each.
Dr. Surekha Satpute, a doctor by profession today and bought to SOS village at the age of two says “I faintly recall that I was a shy kid when during my initial stages at the village, slowly I started developing a sense of belongingness and security with my mother and brothers and sisters with whom I shared some of the beautiful moments of my life. I felt at home because of the love given to me by my SOS mother Pushpa Nade.”
SOS recognizes the indispensable role mothers play in the lives of children. An SOS mother brings up and guides her children as they were her own. Women who are 25-38 years old, have studied till the 10th standard, and are free from their own family responsibilities may apply to become SOS mothers. They undergo a two years training program in topics like health and nutritional needs of growing children, management of resources in a home with children, hygiene and more.
Aanchal Chanya, one of the mothers from the village whose house consists of four boys and six girls belonging to different age groups says “This place is more than a home to me and seeing these kids play and fight gives me a sense of belongingness as though they are my own. I love cooking for them and I keep waiting for evening time when they get back from school. Every minute with them is learning and it’s a beautiful experience. Their love makes me forget my past and keeps me going.”
And Dr. Shantanu Das who is a radiologist at Bhubaneshwar and was brought to SOS at a very young age, says, “I will always be indebted to my SOS mother, a sense of community is inculcated into me by her. She always encouraged me to participate in SOS Village activities. I still remember how she used to wake up every morning to prepare lunch boxes for my brothers and sisters. It was fun.”
Each SOS Village has its own school – the Hermann Gmeiner School, which follows the Central Board. The school also exposes the children to music and sports. A child at an SOS Village is cared for till she reaches adulthood. The team shared with me that managing teenagers, be it boys or girls, can be quite a challenge. It is for this reason that boys are sent to the youth facility wing once they hit their teenage years. The youth facility wing comprises of three divisions, where the boys are sent according to their age. Arunodaya is for boys 14-18 years old; Sopan is for those in college or undergoing professional education; Gharonda is for working professionals.
Interestingly, SOS uses the services of a Multiple Intelligence Test Cell, run by JIVA Agency, to assess the intellect of their child and help them discover the right path for higher studies. In addition to helping a child decide on a career path, the Cell also regularly monitors the child’s progress.In its efforts to provide children with the right career, SOS also runs vocational training centers as well as professional colleges. These are the Kumaon University-affiliated J.N Kaul College in Uttarakhand and the Haryana Nursing Council-affiliated Nursing College. Open to non-SOS Children as well, these offer courses in computers/electronics and nursing respectively – free of cost to those from poor families. These also guarantee 100% job placement.
SOS shares its core learnings with the outside world through its Family Strengthening Program (FSP). This program is conducted in slums in the vicinity of the villages through Self Help Groups (SHGs). It was introduced when it came to light that in many cases, the needs of (slum) children, though they are living with their natural families, are marginalized. Even if they do have a home or a caregiver, their rights are not fully met because of a host of reasons. Poverty, lack of education, the perils of a daily struggle to survive and lack of opportunities to earn a sustainable livelihood render these families incapacitated to take appropriate care of their children. This can then lead to acute deprivation, exploitation, abuse and abandonment of children thereby resulting in the violation of their most basic rights.
As a result, the growth, development and wellbeing of many children are severely affected. It is against this backdrop that the Family Strengthening Programme is being implemented with the objective of enabling families to move out of the vicious cycle of poverty towards greater dignity and self-reliance and a better future for their children. Taking a child rights’ based approach, this programme attempts to assist and empower parents or caregivers in taking care of children in their natural families and communities. In the process it strengthens not only the families and their children whose upliftment it basically aims at, but also creates a vibrant network within the community that will last much longer and become sustainable in caring for the vulnerable families for a very long period.
“It was not an easy task to set up this project as community people were not open to the idea of other people interfering in their lives, literacy level was low, they never used to attend the meetings, and trust level was low until few years when rapport started building through continuous interactions and results” says the coordinator.Though challenging, the efforts of the FSP has seen an increase in incomes (Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 a day), in children getting an education, and in the quality of life overall.
SOS children develop emotional ties with their families that last a lifetime! It is no surprise then that the organization has set up villages in 132 countries across the world. Currently hosting its third generation of children, 438 SOS Children’s Villages and 346 SOS Youth Facilities provide more than 60,000 children (7,500 in India) and youths in need with a new home. More than 131,000 children/youths attend SOS Kindergartens, SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools and SOS Vocational Training Centres. SOS Children’s Villages also helps in situations of crisis and disaster through emergency relief programmes.