SOS Children’s Villages supporter, Hazel Geatches, visited the SOS Children's Village in Arusha, Tanzania, while she was volunteering nearby.
Whilst volunteering near Arusha, I managed to organise an afternoon trip to the north of Arusha to visit the orphanage run by SOS Children. I had found out about this charity before leaving the UK, and had offered to help out on a voluntary basis on my return from Tanzania. They had encouraged me to try to visit their village in Arusha - I'm glad I went; it was a very moving experience!
SOS Children have more than 500 villages all over the world and they have three in Tanzania - one in Zanzibar and one relatively new Children's Village, started in 2000, in Arusha. All the villages are based on the same principles, and it was great to see one in action!
We were shown around by a very helpful Mr Molel, the Village Director. The Arusha village houses 100 orphans who have come from destitute backgrounds - there are 10 houses in the village and each is lived in and run by an 'SOS mother' who looks after up to 10 boys and girls of different ages, who live there together as a family. Siblings always stay together, and the children grow up in the same house - the house we visited had children and a mother who had been living there together for seven years.
The mother is provided with a budget and she is responsible for buying and cooking the food for the children - children help her to shop and cook and so learn about normal family routines. There are bedrooms, each for up to four children, and another for the mother - any babies sleep in cots in the same room as the mother - no dormitories here.
In the SOS Children's Village at Arusha there were a lot of green areas to play in, and also a playground and a communal village hall - all very pleasant. SOS Children also runs three schools on site - a nursery school, a primary school, and a secondary school - for the children from the Village, but also for children in the community who pay subsidised private school fees. We visited the nursery school which was lovely - another world from the nursery I've been working in!
Part of me wished that some of this could be spread around more thinly to more, but then it wouldn't be the same, so maybe it’s better to have a really good model for others to follow.
We also learnt that the SOS children keep in touch with any extended family and sometimes go to stay with them in the holidays. Also, when the children are 18 they move into a youth section, and live semi-independently with a youth leader supervising them. And even when they leave to go to work or university, they keep in touch with the SOS Children’s Villages where they have grown up and are able to contact them for help and advice.
At the end of our tour we spent a while just playing with some of the younger children and they seemed really well adjusted and happy. They are clearly very well cared for and loved here, and despite really sad backgrounds, it's encouraging to see that they are being given a good chance of a happy life. Apparently other organisations are now trying to follow this model. Tanzania has a long way to go to care for all their orphans, but this gave me hope!
SOS Children has been working in Tanzania since 1988 and has three Children's Villages based at Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Zanibar. You can support children in Tanzania by becoming a child sponsor.