Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya, in a north-eastern portion of India connected to the rest of the country only by a thin strip of land between Bangladesh and Nepal. To European settlers, Shillong's beautiful undulating hills recalled the natural beauty of a country closer to home, earning it the appellation “the Scotland of the North.”
Meghalaya has seen scant economic growth compared with other parts of India. Partly, this is down to its remote geographical location and poor transport links to the rest of the country. Most people make a livelihood in agriculture and cattle farming, while mining represents another key sector.
A precarious existence
Dependence on agriculture leaves people vulnerable in times of scarcity. Output is generally low, and the farming methods employed around Shillong are unsustainable. Poverty is a particular problem in rural areas, but is common too in the city.
Gender inequality remains a persistent issue in Shillong. Literacy levels are relatively poor in general, but are particularly low among women. The 2011 census put average literacy at 75.5%, but while 77.2% of men can read and write, only 73.8% can do so. Though this disparity is not as pronounced as elsewhere in the country, it puts women and girls at a particular disadvantage, and reflects their status in society more broadly. Such a gender imbalance is not conducive to development in a state which badly needs it.
It's tough being a girl
This gender imbalance is reflected among children. Both boys and girls are frequently taken out of school to help at home, go out to work, or beg on the street. Overwhelmingly, however, girls are called on first. As reflected in literacy levels, this has a detrimental effect on their education and on their ability to participate in the regional economy.
Children are also vulnerable to trafficking, for forced labour or exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking thanks to their marginalised status in society.
How is SOS Children helping?
SOS Children opened a Children's Village in Shillong in 1999. The land was donated to us by the state government and, to this day, we continue to work with local authorities, organisations to create lasting change for families in Shillong.
Working for communities
Central to our work in Shillong is the help we offer to families in the local community. We support fragile families who circumstances have pushed to the brink of collapse, giving them the tools they need to stay together and create a better future for themselves. We help families start businesses, enabling them to earn a sustainable living bounce back from hardship. Recently, we have helped local women begin their own farming businesses and even open their own shops.
At a more direct level, we help children by offering guidance to parents to help improve parenting skills, raising awareness of hygiene needs, children's rights, and helping them develop the best techniques for raising a family.
Caring for children with nowhere else to turn
Children who have lost their families can find a home in our Children's Village. Set on a beautiful hilltop covered with pine trees, it is an idyllic location to spend a childhood. We offer every child in our care specially tailored support, at school, in healthcare, and by providing all the help they need to recover the difficulties they have experienced.
We lead children through education, right up to secondary level. We provide vocational training for children who want to learn a trade, and help others go on to higher education.
We're helping families throughout the Shillong region discover independence, and giving children who have nowhere else to turn a loving home.