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Changing needs, changing Villages

“It takes a village to raise a child.” So goes the old Nigerian proverb, and you won't be surprised to learn that it is a sentiment at the heart of our work. But we believe that a village is more than just bricks and mortar. It is a home, a community, a place of belonging.

Here, we tell you what we mean when we say “Village” and show you how SOS Children's Villages are evolving to meet the changing needs of children worldwide.

It takes a Village to raise a childWhat do we mean by “Village”?

A Children's Village is somewhere children can live in safety and security with their family. Whether the physical space is a collection of buildings or houses dotted throughout a neighbourhood, the defining feature is that children have a familiar environment in which they can grow and flourish.

In their Village home, children develop the basic skills they need to thrive throughout life, learning how to form friendships, how to live in a community, as well as all they need to pursue the kind of life they want to lead.

So what does an SOS Children's Village look like?

You're probably familiar by now with the most common sort of Children's Village: a cluster of houses forming a little community with close ties to the surrounding neighbourhood. We have been running this kind of Village for over 60 years and in many places, it is the best way to provide care for children.

However, it is the spirit of the Village that counts, not its physical space embodiment. That's why, for many years now, Children's Villages have been changing shape to fit in with local needs. As Villages have changed, SOS families have evolved as well, with fathers joining SOS mothers to form SOS couples and sharing the challenges of parenthood.

The best way to show you what we mean is with a few case studies.

Changing shape

Setting up foster families | SOS couples Fusing families

SOS Children's Village Tampere, Finland
These apartments provide homes for foster families caring for SOS children

Fostering in Finland

In the Finnish city of Tampere, we offer all the benefits of the traditional SOS Children’s Village, while allowing children to grow up as part of the community. A recent change in Finnish law has made foster care the first option for children without parental care.

Given the number of ready and willing foster parents in Tampere, we recruited these families to provide homes for some of the children in our care. We built a number of large apartments across the city and invited foster parents to move in with their own children. SOS children then joined their new parents, brothers and sisters to form a different kind of SOS family.

Today, the project is young, and only one of our apartments is occupied. It is home to foster parents Amy and Daavid. They live with two of their own children, as well as their four SOS children and another child whom they foster independently. Over the coming year, another four apartments will open, and Amy and Daavid will become part of a new kind of Children's Village.

SOS couples in Macedonia

SOS father and child in Macedonia
Vasko and his partner Buba care for six boys at the Children's Village in Skopje

Buba and Vasko are mum and dad to six boys at the SOS Village in Skopje. “I started first as an SOS mother in December 2011,” says Buba. Six months later, Vasko joined her. “At first, Vasko came over on holidays and weekends,” says Buba. “The children got to know him, attached to him and couldn't wait for him to move in.”

Today, they are a close-knit family, and the boys spend a lot of time with their dad. Vasko is pleased to report that they're housetrained as well: “You should come one day when I have a headache or a fever. All seven tiptoe around me, bring me tea, cook soup, clean together, keep quiet, tuck me in. They get me on my feet in no time.”

This setup is becoming increasingly common, particularly in Western Europe. It means that children benefit from a male role model as well as a female one, enables parents to split the workload, and allows children to see adults living and working together in the home. And of course, the greater the diversity of families we can offer, the better we can meet the unique needs of individual children.

A fusion of families in Austria

Children with the Village director at Seekirchen in Austria
Thumbs up for change at the Children's Village in Seekirchen

For half a century, the Children’s Village at Seekirchen am Wallersee has provided many children with a home and a loving family.

Until recently, SOS families at Seekirchen were just like any others around the world, made up of an SOS mother with a number of children in her care. Today, SOS mothers are able to raise their own children alongside their SOS family, meaning husbands and partners are becoming an increasingly familiar part of Village life. This gives SOS children a new sense of proximity to society beyond the Village and a more integrated upbringing.

When Lisa took on the challenge of becoming an SOS mother, her husband Karl came to our Seekirchen Village with her. Karl didn’t just want to live with the SOS family, he wanted to become part of it. Having taken early retirement, he decided to enrol on a course so he could help his wife raise her SOS family. Karl offers his time freely, and provides the family with something beyond the usual SOS experience.

Case studies accurate as of 8th January 2015

The Village of the future

You may have noticed that all of these case studies focus on Children's Villages in Europe. Because infrastructure and services are sometimes better in more developed countries, these regions sometimes lend themselves more readily to solutions beyond the traditional approach.

But innovation isn't confined to Europe. In many parts of Africa, we work with communities to help them support foster families who care for parentless children. In Qwa Qwa, South Africa, we helped set up a community-based organisation which supports foster mothers in the region. After building homes for the foster family to live in and helping the community group to get going, we are stepping back so that the community can take charge of its own future.

Now you've learnt how we adapt to meet the needs of the children who need us, why not discover what a typical Children's Village looks like?

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Did you know? An SOS mother will often work for SOS Children for many years, caring for several generations of children.