In 1949 the very first SOS Children’s Village was built in Austria. Sixty-one years later, there are 505 Villages in 124 countries worldwide, caring for more than 78,000 children and reaching out to thousands more in the community.
How was the concept of a Children's Village conceived? Witnessing the appalling suffering of children orphaned following the Second World War, Herman Gmeiner, founder of the charity, wanted to give children who had no one else to turn to the comfort and security of a new family and home. His idea was that every family, headed by a mother, would be located in a unique Village which would not be separate from wider society, but play a central role in the local community. This concept successfully encompassed what every child – regardless of culture, religion or race - would need to feel loved and secure and grow into independent adult life.
By looking at SOS Children’s Village locations on a world map, it is clear to see that Gmeiner’s idea has been successfully replicated across hundreds of different geographical and cultural settings. They are located in the deserts of the African Sahara and the jungles of Indonesia, the mountains of Peru and the cities of the Unites States. They can be found in countries of peace and in those embroiled in conflict and in those which are prone to environmental disasters such as tsunami’s, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Despite having extreme geographic differences, each Village is united by its purpose of being a special and safe environment in which children can grow. Consisting of around ten family homes, the Village is centred on the importance of family which comprises an SOS mum who looks after between 5 and 15 children. Boys and girls of different ages grow up together as siblings and biological siblings are never separated. An SOS Village also includes vital educational and medical facilities such as nursery, primary and secondary schools and medical centres. These facilities are not only used by the children in our care but also by disadvantaged children from the local community – helping SOS invest in communities and prevent child abandonment.
Although SOS Children’s Villages share many common attributes – each Village is unique, and where possible, their design reflects the local culture. Mothers are always recruited locally and raise children according to their own religion and culture. The need for Villages also varies: some Villages have been built in direct response to children orphaned due to natural disasters (such as the SOS Village in Meulaboh, Indonesia, following the Boxing Day Tsunami), some have been established to look after children displaced by conflict (such as our Village in Gulu, Uganda) and some are built in response to inadequate state child care provision (such as our Villages in Russia). Others are constructed to support rising numbers of HIV/AIDS orphans (particularly in Africa), and those abandoned due to extreme poverty; and some are established to care for children who have suffered abuse and neglect.
Every SOS child’s journey to an SOS Village is unique. Some have lost one parent, others both. Some have parents who are still alive, and where possible, reunification is encouraged. But for every child, an SOS Village is one thing: a place to call home.