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What makes a good family?

The United Nations defines the family as the “fundamental unit of society”
The United Nations defines the family as the “fundamental unit of society”

151 million children worldwide will grow up without one or both parents and without the care and stability often provided as part of a family. The United Nations defines the family as the “fundamental unit of society”.

But why is the family unit so crucial, and what does a good family look like? Here, we use case studies from our work around the to pinpoint that core set of values that makes a family a success.

Stability and security

Mary in Mombasa has worked as an SOS mother for 29 years and has raised 42 children. “Most of the children I have raised have gone through a traumatising experience,” she says. “The positive atmosphere in my family and the unconditional love they received from me and from their SOS brothers and sisters, helped significantly in the healing process. You know, a family provides stability and security, and when a child begins to feel safe, they slowly begin to trust again and to heal.”

Mary and her family at their home in Mombasa, Kenya
Cooking together – Mary superintends in the kitchen at her family home at Mombasa Village, Kenya
To keep her family of 42 children connected, she holds a New Year's Day party every year. Family members who are now grown up and married bring their spouses and children and everyone gathers together for a feast and games to celebrate. Emphasising this definition of family gives every child a huge support network of 41 siblings to help guide them through life. The older children visit the Village often and actively participate in the lives of younger family members.

Mary puts it like this: “When I see the bond I have helped create in my large family, and how the children relate to each other – the smiles, the hugs, amicable conflict resolution – then I know I have been successful in my role as head of the family. You see, children have different characters, temperaments and weaknesses. It is my duty as a mother to ensure all these personalities live together in peace and harmony.”

The hard work of SOS mothers such as Mary creates a positive base from which SOS children can go on to create their own lives and raise their own families. The values and skills developed as part of a SOS family equips them to create a positive future.

A wider definition

“Strong, well-functioning families, whatever form they may take, can help reduce poverty, improve the well-being of mothers, promote gender equality and uphold human rights”—Ban Ki-moon.

Cristian and his brothers at their home in Ayacucho Village, Peru
Cristian built this “mototaxi” for his youngest brother to play in at Ayacucho Village, Peru

A family doesn’t have to fit a conventional model or definition to be effective. People across the globe are redefining what a family is – be it a group of friends living together, grandparents raising grandchildren, or an SOS mother raising a family in a Children’s Village. However we define ‘family’, common threads within successful families become apparent – collective goals and values, boundless love and support and constructive conflict resolution. It is these common threads and goals that are central to building a successful family.

In Peru, Cristian and his 5 younger siblings watched as their parents were imprisoned after being found in possession of items relating to the cocaine trade. Undeterred, this intelligent and well-spoken boy found a new home, with his siblings, at the Children’s Village in Ayacucho. Here, he is able to be a leader and source of support for his siblings whilst he in turn has the support of an SOS mother and the community. He has thrived at Ayacucho and works hard at school, taking extra classes on the weekend, whilst still making time to play games with his siblings – he even built a small, model ‘mototaxi’ for his youngest brother to play in. “We are so happy to be here in the Village... we were very lucky to be taken in and given care together,” he says.

Embracing others

We try to extend the definition of family well beyond our Villages and into the surrounding community. In Vietnam, Mrs Vy and her husband had their lives turned upside down when an accident left Mr Vy paralysed from the neck down. He was the sole breadwinner and his wife was now left facing the challenge of supporting them and their son while amassing huge medical bills. Mrs Vy struggled to make ends meet and their change of circumstances compromised their son’s education.

Unsure where to go, Mrs Vy found support from the family strengthening programme at the SOS Children’s Village in Da Lat. The programme provides community-based support for families like the Vys, targeting disadvantaged families with the aim of preventing child abandonment.

A young woman on vocational training in Kita, Mali

Now, the Vys have a permanent house, rather than having to move between rented accommodation, their son is able to attend school regularly while Mrs Vy works from home and can afford her husband’s medical treatment. Mrs Vy says: “If someone has the will, she can do everything and can manage even the toughest of situations. But without the support and the sharing of the community, I don’t know how we would be now.”

The importance of women

According to the UN, “Family laws may actually codify discrimination against women and girls and place them in a subordinate position to men in families, replicated at the community and society level.” We place women at the heart of their communities, seeking to change the perception of women and girls as subordinate and to change societal attitudes, beginning with children.

Changing and challenging perceptions of women is at the heart of strengthening the role of the family in all societies and tackling issues such as female genital mutilation which, according to a UNICEF estimate, has affected more than 125 million girls in Africa and the MIddle East.

A brighter future

Families provide the basic structure and support that allow children to flourish and to overcome adversity and difficulties. The more children worldwide who are raised within a loving family unit, the greater our hope for the future. Creating positive outcomes for children boosts our chances of tackling and eradicating the pressing issues of war, poverty, lack of education and poor access to healthcare. By supporting and creating family units, in all their varied forms, we are building the framework for a brighter future for all.

Find out more about our Family Strengthening Programmes.