Many children who arrive at SOS Children’s Villages come from traumatic backgrounds, and many have lost their parents. Some children experience pain, feelings of guilt, anger, fear, insecurity and low self-esteem. Left untreated, deep emotional wounds can hinder children from forming positive relationships and growing into psychologically healthy adults.
In 2010, SOS Children initiated the “Alegría” project (which means “Joy” in English), to provide counselling and support for children and young people living in SOS families. The pilot phase was initiated in the Children’s Village Managua in 2010, and during 2011, the programme was extended to the other five SOS Children’s Villages projects in Nicaragua.
The programme focuses on active participation and providing a forum for children and young people to discuss their experiences. The scheme also provides strategies for children to learn to deal with the pain of a loss, abandonment or violence. The project creates safe spaces both inside and outside the SOS Children’s Villages, where the children are able to speak about painful experiences, feelings and thoughts. Activities on offer in these spaces vary from counselling on personal development, family meetings, dance therapy, aqua therapy and art therapy. The children also participate in excursions such as camping and take part in organised sporting activities, to help them to socialise with their peers.
The programme stresses the importance of involving SOS mothers in the process of providing psychological care: “The collective involvement of SOS mothers has been decisive, because besides being fully convinced that emotional recovery is our primary commitment to children living in an SOS family, there is a greater clarity of the role that each one has,” says Benito Rivas, National Director of SOS Children in Nicaragua.
Benito believes that the programme provides an essential step towards children’s development: “With the Alegría project we have found a way to provide direct support to children who come to the SOS Children’s Village after having lost their family and having lived the most traumatic experiences that any human being could imagine. We are able to contribute positively to children and adolescents to heal their emotional wounds, restore confidence in them and believe it is possible to 'get ahead'."