SOS Parents are trained and dedicated carers who look after children who, for whatever reason, cannot be with their biological parents.
Perhaps you have children of your own, or you think that one day you might like to have kids - it’s perfectly a natural urge. Many of us feel a very strong biological pull to build a family with someone we love and watch them grow and flourish.
But becoming an SOS Parent is really quite different. An SOS Parent looks after children who might have biological parents, but they are no longer able to stay with them. There are lots of reasons for this – sometimes families tragically can’t afford another mouth to feed, sometimes families are torn apart by conflict or natural disaster. Sometimes a parent dies, or it may be that after a family bereavement, parents find themselves emotionally unable to cope and keep their children with them.
This is when SOS Parents step in and offer either short or long-term support to children who can’t be with their biological family. An SOS parent is paid a salary, given a family budget depending on the size of their family, and runs their household themselves, supported by a family assistant.
“I help children pick up the pieces, and begin to enjoy their childhood” - Comfort
Comfort Soglohou has been an SOS Parent in Ghana for the past 20 years, sharing her life with 14 children – and she plans to finally retire this year in 2020.
Now 59, Comfort says the crucial ingredients to building a successful SOS Family is patience and taking the time to understand each child individually. This has helped her to create a loving home for her children – bringing them the comfort that her name suggests which allows them to feel safe, loved and supported.
“There is a lot of talking when you are an SOS caregiver: asking the children to do this and that, to stop doing this and that, do your homework, brush your teeth, encouraging and guiding them,” says Comfort.
“They would be easier to handle if they were my biological children, but here they come from different backgrounds. I have learnt to relate with them according to their understanding and temperaments. Some are very aggressive and bitter about life; they ask many questions that I at times cannot answer. But I have been able to bring them to where they are now.”
Eight of Comfort’s children are now working, two are in secondary school, one is doing her national service to join university, and the other three are in primary school.
“One of these children came to me very depressed. He just wanted to be on his own. I would tell jokes to make him laugh, but he put on a serious face and could not laugh. When I asked him to do this or that, he would refuse and just stand looking at me. To get to his inner person, I became like a child and started playing with him, while still talking to him, and gradually he opened up. No matter where a child is, they get there little by little,” she explains.
One remarkable story Comfort recalls is how she helped her daughter Rosemary* meet her biological mother. Building and maintaining strong links with biological family members is actively encouraged wherever possible, as children do best when they keep bonds of this kind. In Rosemary’s case, her mother was a teenager when she gave birth.
“My daughter was brought to me at two months old, and she is now 13 years old. She would come to me and ask, ‘Mummy, where is my mother? Why am I here?’ I told her we would trace her mother through a relative who frequently visited her here at the village. We searched and found the grandfather who then called the mother. Later, Rosemary met her mother. She asked her about the father, but the mother was not able to tell her anything, she just said he was dead,” Comfort recalls.
“My daughter was very bitter with her parents when she came back to the house. I had to talk to her, ‘Look at where you are now, there are people here who love you, who care for you, so when you take that bitterness and allow it to overcome you, it will not be good for your health, and it will disturb your studies. I am here for you as a mother, and now you know your biological mother, your grandmother and grandfather. Forgive them and you will live peacefully.’” Comfort says Rosemary gradually overcame her anger.
Many children placed with an SOS Parent have been through traumatic experiences and are in need of healing. Comfort says, as an SOS caregiver, she has been able to help her children pick up the pieces, and begin to enjoy their childhood.
“I am very happy that I chose to serve children in need because my expertise is helping many other families. When I go to see my relatives, they come to me for advice on how to handle their children. I talk to them about patience. At times, I ask them to allow the child in question to come and spend time with me, to chat, cook, and eat together. Before I realise it, the child opens up about what is upsetting them. I may be retiring, but my work with children will go on.”
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*Names have been changed to protect the children’s identities.