I first learned of SOS Children’s Villages from Sandilya the Board president, about three years ago. It wasn’t until my recent travels to India that I was able to visit a SOS Village to learn more about their unique approach to supporting orphaned children.
SOS Children’s Villages of India cares for 6,400 children in villages across the country. The village I visited in Faridabad, which opened in 1964, was the first of over 40 SOS International Villages to open in India. The SOS model diverges greatly from a traditional group home orphanage. Instead of a single care giver looking after 30-40 children in a dormitory type setting, SOS International recognizes the important role of community and family in childhood development and therefore places is children in supportive villages. Villages are made up of 10-15 homes, and each home is supported by a ‘mother’ who manages household affairs and serves as the long-term, primary caregiver for her family. Villages on the whole are supported by a village director. This village structure provides mothers and children with a much-needed social support system. In addition to the relational support, each family has access to daytime educational programs, skill training, medical care, adult guidance, nutritional programs, and more.
During my visit I had an opportunity to speak with children, mothers, retired mothers, as well as the village Director, who each, in their own way, shared how the SOS Village model provides children with a nurturing environment that allows them to thrive. My guide and translator, Tsering Dolkar Kartsang, is living testament to the program’s success. Tsering, grew up in the Faridasbad Children’s Village almost 20 years ago and now is the National Coordinator for Brand, Media & PR for all SOS Children’s Villages in India. It was during these conversations that I learned first hand the effectiveness of SOS Villages’s unique approach to supporting orphaned children.
Below is an expert from my interviews:
NPi: Can you tell me about mothers? How is it different than other orphanage models?
Tsering Dolkar Kartsang: SOS Children’s Villages India is a member for SOS International. The program places abandoned or orphaned children into families under the care of a mother. Each mother will have 5-8 children in her home and mothers may raise 10-20 children over the course of their serviced. Children grow, attend school, get married. As children leave the home, new, younger children are added to the family. Once children reach age of 13-14, especially boys, they move to the youth house, where they are given their own room and more space.
NPi: How are women prepared to become mothers?
TDK: There is a particular syllabus each potential mother follows. First, 6 months classroom theoretical training and home skills development, covering topics such as child rearing, psychology, housekeeping, nutrition, cooking. After this training period is completed mothers are place in a 3-5 year apprenticeship, serving as an Auntie to a mother that has her own family. During this time potential mothers gain valuable hands on experience on how to be a mother. After several years Aunties are reviewed, then recommend to become a mother. When a senior mothers retires, Aunties are offered the opportunity to become a Head of Household, which is a mother with slightly less responsibility. Head of Households mother will care for only 3-4 children and will continue to receive help and support from other mothers in the village. After another peer review, approved Head of House mothers become a full time mother with her own household, taking on the responsibility of 8-10 children.
NPi: What have you learned doing this work?
Village Director: This is the first Village in India, we have learned a lot and there have been many changes. This local environment has changed drastically. Initially it was very isolated, there were 1-2 buses, no markets nearby, no new construction, no electricity, no running water. Mothers worked very hard physically to provide these things for their families. Now over the course of 10 years, the work is less physical and more mental, meaning mothers don’t have to dedicated so much time to fetching food and water for their families and are now able to focus more on developing the family, on mental tasks, instilling values, helping choose right from wrong.
TDK: Also, we have been able to learn and improve as the first generation of mothers have retired. Although, they no longer raise a family, they remain in the village and play the role of elder to new mothers, like a mentor. These retired mothers provide support for new mothers and aunties, specially with how to deal with the mental challenges of motherhood and how to help heal the child after the difficulties of their previous life. We have been able to improve our outcomes as the physically changes in the village happened and being able to learn from the wisdom of retired mothers.
While in Udaipur, India later during my travels, I had the opportunity to visit another orphanage, one operating from a more conventional model. It made the uniqueness and effectiveness of SOS Villages even more apparent. SOS Villages creates the conditions for family support systems to form around these children, alternative family structures in which caregivers learn from elders and children have the opportunity to bond with their caregiver and with each other. I am so impressed by the resourcefulness and caring I see present in SOS’s model and wonder what we can learn from SOS about how to care for children in our own communities here in the States.
For more information about SOS Village’s India visit: http://www.soscvindia.org or contact Tsering Dolkar Kartsang at + 91-11- 4323 9200.