A family village built on love
By Ravi V. Chhabra
Pleasant and profound experiences happen at their anointed time and place. For me,the wait had been thirty years. It was through Robin (name changed) that I was introduced to the SOS Children’s Village when I was in my fourth standard in school. Like me, he too was a day scholar. An exceptionally good basketball player for his short height and frame, he and I shared many hobbies like making collages and collecting good quotes.
Robin had no qualm about growing up without parents and would often talk about his Mother at the SOS Children’s Village and how she would tell him and his brothers and sisters stories at night time. He would narrate them back to me verbatim in our free classes in the school or during the daily long-break for lunch.
I recall having looked forward to his Mother’s stories day after day.
Since then, I had been keen to visit his Village. An ex-colleague arranged for my visit there last Sunday with my family. I had an indistinct idea about the Village. Mainly, the fact that it was started by an Austrian named Hermann Gmeiner and that the institution (read NGO) has its footprints in over 130 countries made me all the more curious about its seminal work for the homeless children. I also learnt that the SOS Children's Villages is an independent, non-governmental, social development organization that provides family-based care for children in India since 1964 and it is now spread in over 21 states with 33 Children's Villages.
Reading about it, I learnt that it spreads the concerns, rights and needs of children with over 6000 children and young people living in 33 SOS Children's Villages and 27 SOS Youth Facilities in the country; with more than 7000 children and young people attending SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, SOS Kindergartens and SOS Vocational Training Centres. The SOS Children's Villages provides families with material, psychological and social support and in times of crisis and disaster, apart from helping through emergency relief programmes and working and promoting worldwide the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, it was only upon my visit to the oldest SOS Children’s Village in India that I also learnt that thousands of its students have in the many years of its inception become professionals in countless arenas. I heard stories of successful careers, marriages et al that overwhelmed me - the families continue to keep in touch with the SOS Villages’ Mothers and brothers and sisters for a lifetime were wonderful and heart-rending.
Most touching to me is the role of an SOS Mother who is a single woman and dedicates her life to take care of children entrusted to her. This is one SOS Family and she is the caring parent for her children. Each such family has their own independent cottage. An SOS Mother cares for her children just as any biological mother does for her children in natural families. The SOS Children go to good private local schools and get the best possible education.
As soon as we got down from the car at Greenfields in Faridabad, partly green and brown leaved trees stared at us in this spring season but in the flowerbeds sunflowers winced and waved at us intermittently. Abhishek from the administration ushered us in. Suddenly, little Yash – barely 9-years-old approached us, prancing about with shining eyes, he wished me “Namaste Uncle”. Indeed, he reminded me of my Robin.
The duo took us around and showed us the store-room, playground, kindergarten and then finally, we entered Yash’s home numbered 2 called Anchal Chhanyan. The entire family of 10 members between ages 9 to 15 yrs welcomed us with glowing faces and broad smiles. The home was noticeably clean and organized, just like any educated middle-class Indian home. A loving Mother Anjali Das (I reckon she must be in her mid 30s) brought us water to drink as we eased ourselves on the sofa. We were too pleased to be with a family of 10 members – 2 brothers and 8 sisters that came from altogether different races with different skin tones and yet who lived in complete harmony. Four children, separate girls’ room, each shared the double bed in the 4 bedrooms that had a study table each with it. This Village houses 20 families with their Mothers, apart from the administrative staff.
Mother Anjali told me that she cooked all the meals for the 10 children and like any other family she bought grocery in the evenings from the locality bazaar and invariably stored it in the fridge till it got exhausted. The family ate the meals together with an occasional child throwing tantrums over choice of food! Only RO filtered water is used for cooking and fresh milk is given twice a day to all children. Anjali, like other Mothers at the Village, has been trained at the SOS Villages Mother’s Training Center in housekeeping and other childcare matters. The Mother Training School is located a few miles from the SOS Village. Her children confirmed she is a good cook and she prepares non-vegetarian dishes once a week depending on how she allots funds in her budget for meats.
Trophies and medals won by the children were displayed as curios in the living-room, while the walls of the tidy four bedrooms proudly displayed a few paintings by the talented children on the walls. An all-pervasive relaxed and pleasant aura reigned in the house. The kitchen had ample natural light and cross-ventilation; the cemented shelves were tidy and crockery well arranged on them with the weekly menu prominently stuck on the wall. I recall it included salads, porridge, eggs, paranthas, lentil, rice, rotis, vegetables, chicken and states’ special cuisines and many home-made sweet dishes for festivals and on kids’ birthdays.
As we readied to leave, we learnt that the children loved Hindi music and Yash and Khushi were the natural dancers in the house. Upon our request,Yash consented to dance on the famous Bollywood song ‘Saturday, Saturday’. We requested Anjali to let us record Yash’s impromptu, thrilling performance.
(Video embeded above).
Interview/Mr. Rakesh Jinsi. Secretary General, SOS Children's Villages, India:
Q1) I understand you come from the engineering and corporate backgrounds. Why this shift and how different has the change been for you on a personal level?
I had thought of using my managerial skills for the Not-For-Profit sector as I felt I could contribute to this sector in this way.When the opportunity of working withn SOS came to me I felt this was just the role and the Organisation I was looking for.Even though it came few years earlier than I had planned,but not wanting to miss the opportunity I decided to join. Essentially my work still remains the same ie to ensure that the organization functions properly and meets its aims/objectives/mission.At a personal level,I feel far more satisfied as I feel that through my work Iam contributing to a larger cause which goes much beyond the Profit/Loss of a business entity.
Q2) Are there specific funds for each child till he/she becomes a professional? These days becoming a commercial pilot or a medical doctor are extremely expensive, how do you manage that?
Ans: We attempt to get each child a number of sponsors who contribute towards her/his upbringing.There is a development plan for each child based on the child’s needs/skill/aptitude and SOS prepares the child accordingly. For higher education, we try to meet the expenses from money received from sponsors.In case of shortfall we meet the expenses by using money from the common fund pool available with us.We also seek support from our donors & corporate friends specifically for a special fund for education expenses.
Q3) Do you accept a volunteer mother? There must be some criteria for choosing a mother for a home?
Ans: SOS Children’s Villages Mothers are caring parents for our childrenand volunteers may not able to give that kind of commitment. Therefore we don’t accept volunteer mothers. The criteria for choosing a mother for an SOS Family is that she is single women who have no dependents and is willing to dedicate her life to take care of children under the care of SOS Children’s Villages. These women can be young widows, divorcees or ladies who don’t want to marry.
Q4) Till when are the children the responsibility of the SOS Village?
Ans: SOS India make sure that the children under their care get not only nutritional food, proper clothing and a healthy environment but the best possible education to built a strong foundation for their future and become a contributing member of the society. Children move out of the SOS Children’s Village when they are independent after getting a job and most of the girls when they get married.Normally this happens between the age of 22-25 years.
Q5) Do the remaining Village staff cooktheir food themselves like the mothers in SOS Villagehomes do and what are the hygiene standards?
Ans: Yes, they do cook for themselves. Some single staff who can’t cook can eat at the community house for which they pay.
Q6) Are the families entitled to outstation or overseas vacations. How is that managed?
Ans: We don’t encourage the family travelling out stations on their own but project can plan for their outing. Sometime such outings are sponsored by our donor friends.
Q7) What if a mother decides to leave the Village and rejoin with her relatives/family? Is replacing her or her departure not a damper to the children of that family?
Ans: It is very rare that our mothers leave. We have a 2 year training programme for all the women who join us as mothers. During this period the women get a real feel of the role and by the end of this period they make up their mind. Most of the separations take place during this period and those who choose to continue rarely leave us before their retirement which is at the age of 60. Attempt is made to ensure that when the mother retires most of the children of that family home haveeither grown up or have moved to hostels.The ones who have not are mentally prepared for this event. However, since most of the retired mothers live within the village campus so the child still is in touch with the mother.
Q8) What is your daily routine at the workplace and thereafter with your family?
Ans: I leave for work at about 8.45 am and I am back home by 8.30 pm.The day is so occupied that one hardly gets time to think about anything else.But once I am home then I spend the entire time with my family/relatives and friends.
To know more about the SOS Children's Village, here is their website: