Pietermaritzburg, the capital of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province, has a population of around 750,000 people.
Conditions are notoriously poor, and some say that living standards have declined since apartheid ended. Pietermaritzburg is also home to one of the largest populations of Indian South Africans in the country, and their plight under apartheid was one of Mahatma Gandhi's inspirations in seeking equality in his own country.
Lack of job security and dire resources
In spite of efforts to improve many of the problems resulting from apartheid, disease poses an increasing risk to many communities around the city, and life expectancy has fallen for most inhabitants.
Over half of people in Pietermaritzburg get by on less than $1 a day. For many, job security is an unattainable dream. With no access to decent schools or medical care, long-term prospects are bleak and stable employment hard to come by.
A lost childhood
When parents fall ill, whole families come under pressure. When the main source of household income is lost, children are often forced to take on the role of breadwinner. Many resort to begging on the street to scrape a living for the whole family; others are sent away to live with extended family.
Some take on care giving responsibilities for sick parents, losing out on their education - and often their whole childhood - in the process. Experiences like this can have a profound lifelong impact on children.
What are we doing to help?
SOS Children has been in Pietermaritzburg since 1996. As always, we care for those children whom adverse circumstances have separated from their families. Every child grows up in a new family cared for by an SOS mother.
As children grow up, they enjoy all the benefits of an SOS upbringing, including quality education from nursery to secondary level, full healthcare, and the support they need as they make their journey into adulthood. Our nursery is also open to children from the neighbourhood, meaning youngsters from both backgrounds can play and learn together.
Supporting the whole community
With so many fragile families in the community, we aim to bring a stable upbringing to the city's most vulnerable children. Our SOS Social Centre is the hub of our community work. Here, we offer medical care to any who need it, provide children with vaccinations to protect them from disease, and deliver all manner of support – from counselling and help with income generation to guidance on parenting.
In particular, we support families affected by HIV/AIDS. Our main aim is to ensure the burden of responsibility does not fall to children. Individual needs require individual, tailored support, but by providing medical treatment, financial help, and being there for families when they need us, we can often help parents return to health and ensure that a child's education and childhood is not jeopardised.
SOS Children provides ongoing help to people in dire need. We enable families to support themselves so children can enjoy the childhood they deserve.