April 24 2006
"We turn abandoned children into fortunate children!"
24/04/2006 - On 26 April 2006, it will be 20 years since the death of Hermann Gmeiner, the founder of SOS Children's Villages. Marked by his childhood, Hermann Gmeiner dedicated his life to helping the most vulnerable in society, children, and his vision was to give them a future by creating SOS Children's Villages.
Hermann Gmeiner, who came from a large farming family in Vorarlberg, lost his mother in the earliest years of his youth, on 23 June 1919 in Alberschwende, Austria. His eldest sister Elsa took his mother's place and looked after the youngest children of a total of eight. It was only because of a grant that the talented young boy was able to go to secondary school. After being a soldier in Russia during the Second World War, he studied medicine in Innsbruck with the intention of becoming a paediatrician. He also worked looking after young people. While doing this, he witnessed how so many war orphans had been abandoned and lived in poverty and saw the problems of the overcrowded barrack-like homes of the post-war period.
In light of this situation, Hermann Gmeiner had a vision to create a home for children in need, where they could grow up as if they were in a family: with a mother, brothers and sisters, in a house and a protective village. The idea of the "SOS Children's Village" was thus born. He laid the cornerstone of the first house that was named "Peace" in 1949 in Imst, in Tyrol, Austria.
SOS Children's Villages were then built all over Europe; the organisation's activities began in Asia in 1963 and in Africa and South America soon afterwards. Hermann Gmeiner's name, his charisma, his compassion and his energy are inseparably linked to the global recognition that SOS Children's Villages received over the decades that followed. He was given countless certificates, honorary doctorates and was warmly welcomed in many places, but he never forgot to mention the fact that millions of people were helping to make his work possible.
"Millions of friends across the world", said Hermann Gmeiner, "have helped me to provide a home for children at the SOS Children's Villages. Thousands of other children are included in the idea by means of SOS social facilities. These villages of peace incorporate all the great religions of the world and know no racial preference. That is a humanitarian breakthrough! We turn abandoned children into fortunate children. Their laughter and positive approach to life make our work worthwhile."
Hermann Gmeiner died on 26 April 1986. He was buried in the world's first SOS Children's Village, in Imst, in Tyrol, Austria.
"Hermann Gmeiner was a great man, who devoted himself to children", said Helmut Kutin, the current President of SOS Children's Villages, who himself grew up in SOS Children's Village Imst. "His mark can be found in every child that has grown up and will grow up in an SOS Children's Village."
There are now 457 SOS Children's Villages in 132 countries and over a thousand additional social facilities, such as kindergartens, schools, youth houses, vocational centres, hospitals, social centres and emergency aid projects. Around 680,000 children, young people and families receive care at the SOS facilities. Over six million SOS Children's Villages friends across the world help to make it possible for Hermann Gmeiner's work to continue.
A service will be held at Hermann Gmeiner's grave in SOS Children's Village Imst on 26 April 2006. The mass will be conducted by the Archbishop of Salzburg Alois Kothgasser; many guests are expected both from Austria and abroad.