SOS Children’s Villages – A Loving Home For Every Child
“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing” – Anonymous
It was a chance encounter at an airport with an old friend. My old friend Sandilya told me that since retiring he had been volunteering as the non-executive chairman Cuxac d’Aude of the SOS children’s villages in India. I was intrigued by his description of a community designed solely to help poor orphans. “Come and visit,” he urged.
That’s how my wife Girija and I ended up at the village in Tambaram, in the outskirts of Chennai. The man in charge of that particular village, Mr. Varadarajan, showed us around and explained these villages that provide a home to destitute children who have lost both parents.
The unique feature of SOS is the house mother – the Chennai centre has 15 houses, each with its own ‘mother’ who brings up the children. To provide a family environment, each mother takes responsibility for bringing up around 10 children, of varying age groups, like in any other large family. She oversees a monthly budget and takes care of all the children, relying on the older kids chip in on the chores.
While the village administration, school, medical facilities and auditorium are maintained by the SOS village administration group, each house is independently run by the house mothers, who tend to be single women with the singular set of skills and temperament needed to oversee a large, busy household.
They are selected very carefully and undergo training for a couple of years before they are deemed fit to take charge of a home. The interaction among children across houses is like those of neighbors. The Chennai centre has its own primary school, and the older children attend local high schools in Tambaram.
We visited one of the houses. Only a few young children were home with the mother; the other children were at school. The mother proudly showed us pictures of some of her ‘children’ who were now grown up and married. They stayed in touch with her. In fact, that very day one of the grown children was getting married and the whole village was scheduled to attend the wedding ceremony.
Many of the children who grew up in the villages doing well in life: doctors, engineers and other professionals who are working in India and abroad. Several retired mothers are now living with their adopted children. Many well-to-do siblings look after the less fortunate kids they grew up with.