Southeast Asia, 07/25/2007

A New Home in the SOS Children’s Village

Subject: Society
Country: Indonesia
Category: Project

On a hot Sunday afternoon in July, some 50 children moved into the new, modern houses in Medan, Indonesia, their first real home since the tsunami hit two and a half years earlier. A festive mood was in the air. Name lists on the doors indicated who would move into which house. One child, eager to keep the house as beautiful as possible, busied herself lining up all the shoes neatly. Mothers and children quickly mopped the floors one last time to make sure everything was bright and clean before the big move – “their” SOS Children’s Village was finally ready!

In December 2004, a tsunami destroyed large parts of Southeast Asia. Naturally, Bertelsmann contributed to the first wave of badly needed emergency relief. That goes without saying, but it wasn't enough. The only way to give victims a second chance to return to life under normal, humane conditions is through long-term, sustainable aid. The activities for tsunami victims focus on children orphaned by the flood, who don't have a roof over their heads and who sorely need to feel secure, loved and cared for. The orphans who live in SOS Children’s Villages get all of the above. That is why Bertelsmann is providing long-term sponsorship support, over a period of ten years, to such facilities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. The aim is provide 250 children with guardianship, clothing, medical care and education.

The foundation for this long-term support is a 1.4 million euro relief fund set up specifically for this purpose by Bertelsmann and its employees in the days and weeks following the disaster. The company had pledged one million euros and then doubled the 200,000 euros donated by employees all over the world.

“Bertelsmann, its business divisions, its companies and its many, many employees displayed impressive solidarity with the people hit by the tsunami,” declared Bertelsmann’s Chairman & CEO Gunter Thielen. “The money they donated will go to secure these children’s future for the long term – and that is exactly what we hoped to achieve with our relief efforts.”

The international relief organization that runs the SOS Children’s Villages openly welcomes Bertelsmann’s stance: “The more time has passed since a catastrophe, the more difficult it is to find people to help the victims. The public’s attention has long since turned to other issues. SOS Children’s Villages are especially pleased that Bertelsmann has committed to long-term assistance for needy people in South Asia," explains Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children’s Villages worldwide.

The 50 children in Medan who have already moved into the eight houses will be joined by another 100. Apart from the residential buildings, there will be a community building, a village office and employee housing. The SOS Children’s Village mothers live with the children in the houses as families. Many of these young women lost their own families in the disaster, and working for the relief organization is a great opportunity for them.

Medan is the first of six villages in Indonesia, India and Thailand that children have already moved into. The other villages are making good progress as well. The first 15 family houses each will probably be ready for move-in by the end of the year in Cot Nibong by Meulaboh and Lamreung near Banda Aceh – despite adverse conditions. In Banda Aceh, for instance, heavy rainfalls and flooding led to delivery difficulties and delays. But the helpers at the SOS Children’s Villages refuse to be daunted by such obstacles, considering the stakes. “Being able to give children who have experienced so much horror a new home and a sense of continuity means a great deal to us,” says Ute Kister of SOS Children’s Villages.

In the Indian city of Pondicherry, around 60 girls and boys have been cared for in a temporary children’s village since the end of 2005, and will also soon be moving into their new homes, accompanied by the SOS mothers who are already taking care of them. Local celebrations and birthday parties help to strengthen the village community prior to move-in. The SOS mothers are supported in their work by the future village manager and two social workers. The children attend public schools in town and are given tutoring as needed. SOS Children’s Villages plan to build two more facilities in tsunami-struck regions in India.

Apart from the villages in Indonesia and India, a project is being realized in Thailand as well. In February, work began on a SOS Children’s Village in Phuket, with twelve family houses and a kindergarten for 75 toddlers. But reconstruction isn’t necessarily possible at all locations. Civil war-like conditions in Sri Lanka make it impossible for SOS Children’s Villages to send permanent employees to the region at this time, so plans for an SOS Children’s Village on the east coast had to be shelved for the time being.

In addition to Pondicherry, SOS Children’s Villages is planning to build a small village with five family houses in Port Blair on the Andaman Islands. A suitable property has already been found and construction is scheduled to begin this year. As well as the children’s village, an SOS Vocational Training Center for teens will be erected here. The other new children’s village will be built in the hard-hit region of Tamil Nadu. The relief organization already has an SOS social center here that includes an outpatient clinic. The planned children’s village will include ten family houses for 100 children and the necessary adjoining buildings. In addition, an SOS social center will be added to provide long-term support for children and their families in the neighborhood – the first children will be able to move in by early 2008.