A Visit to the SOS Children’s Village in Kochi
When Freddie was little, her parents used to support SOS Children’s Villages with a monthly donation. Periodically, letters would arrive with stories about orphaned children who had been placed into a family environment by the charity. This unique concept of a Children’s Village as opposed to an orphanage stayed in Freddie’s mind and played a role when we chose a charity to support with our bike journey.
SOS Children’s Villages have been great in their communication with us and were more than happy to allow us to poke our heads in and say hello at one of the children’s villages during our trip. The charity has 500 children’s villages in 124 countries, including several villages in India. ||
On arrival at the SOS Children’s Village near Kochi we were greeted by Vipin Das, the village director. Vipin took time out from his busy day to tell us about the village and answer our numerous questions. As he told us working for SOS is a way of life requiring 100% commitment, it is not just a job. Vipin and his family live in the village and are always available to attend to the needs of the village. Vipin acts as the father figure, always being available for the children from birthdays and marriages to problems at school.
The village was set up 21 years ago and is home to 15 “families”. Each family has their own house and also shares a last name to create a stronger identity for the family unit. There is a “mother” in each family, and 8-12 children of varying ages. Several “aunts” are available to help out around the house, especially when a mother is ill or has babies to look after. Most of the children are orphans, and some come from dysfunctional families. On arrival they become part of a family unit and always remain part of this unit. Even once they have left the village, they will still come back and visit their family.
Most of the mothers are unmarried or widowed and have been at the village since it was founded over 21 years ago, dedicating their lives to the needs of the children. Unfortunately with the lure of more luctrative placements in private clinics and with the changing values of society it is becoming more difficult for the charity to find new mothers who will commit to such a demanding and long term placement.
Children in need are either referred to the charity by other people in the community, or the charity goes out proactively to find children when they have a vacancy. With each child, a formal evaluation is completed to see if the child is really in need. In total, the SOS Children’s Village in Kochi is home to nearly 200 disadvantaged children at any time.
One thing we really liked about the charity is that they respect the children’s background and religion. There are Christian, Hindu and Muslim families in the village, and the children are placed in a suitable family according to their own religion. Depending on this, they will visit a church, temple or mosque in the nearby village. They also go to school in the village so that they have an opportunity to make friends with children outside of their own environment.
Boys leave the village at the age of 13 to live in a neighbouring and associated community. The reason is that the charity believes they need more male role models at that age, so they live with other men and boys. Girls stay in the village until the age of 15 when they move to a boarding school. The children have continual access to their families, no matter what stage they are at and often come back to the village to visit.
The aim of the charity is to help the children grow up and live independently, and to that effect they will pay for the children’s education, including university tuition. In true Indian fashion, they take their parenting duties so seriously that they even arrange marriages for many of the young adults and provide a small amount of money to fund a modest wedding. In the last six years, there were 64 weddings in the village, and in this way many of the orphans have found a new family and are able to live independently.
After speaking to Vipin for a while, we were handed over to Daisy who is in charge of sponsorship and has been working in the village since the start, 21 years ago. She took us to visit a couple of the families. We had brought along some games and colouring-in books which made useful gifts for the lovely families we met.
In the homes, we realised what a demanding job the mothers are facing, looking after so many children, cooking all meals, cleaning etc. The first mother we visited had her hands full looking after two ultra cute 6 month old twins, Albi Joseph and Irene Rose. They had been taken in by the charity at the age of only 2 days as their mother died in childbirth and their father was very poor and not in a position to look after them. He will still be able to visit and the children will be told about their situation around the ages of 9 or 10 when they start to ask questions. In most cases they will consider their family to be the SOS Children’s Village.
In the same family, we also met a young woman who had just completed her MBA and accepted a job with an accounting firm. An orphan herself, she had grown up in the village and had come back to visit her family.
The village consists of 15 homes and various communial facilities nestled within its spacious gardens. The homes each have three small bedrooms – one for girls, one for boys and one for the mother and any very small children. The furnishings in the houses are quite sparse and most children don’t seem to have many personal possessions. Each house has a small garden, and there is also a play and sports area in the village. We felt that the village was very well run, with a clean and comfortable environment for the children, providing for their needs but not spending on extravagances.
As Vipin told us, the cost of looking after a child varies for each children’s village, but in the Kochi village it is around 7000 Rupees per child, per month (about £100). That includes the expenses for education and modest weddings for the older children, as well as administrative costs. With the impact of the recent recession and smaller amounts of donations received, they have had to cut back budgets in some areas.
If you would like to make a donation to SOS Children’s Villages, please click here to sponsor us. You can donate any amount using your credit card, and all donations are sent directly to the charity. Thanks to some generous sponsors we have raised over £500 so far – please support us in raising £1000 and helping children like little Albi and Irene have a bright future.