Tsunami Relief: Kids Move In To SOS Children’s Villages - Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA

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Southeast Asia, 07/30/2007

Tsunami Relief: Kids Move In To SOS Children’s Villages

Subject: Society
Country: Thailand
Category: Project

It’s a hot Sunday afternoon in Medan, Indonesia, the day of the big move. Children run excitedly back and forth on freshly paved paths between the modern, new houses. Fifty of them will be moving into the houses today –the children’s first real home since the tsunami hit two and a half years ago. Name lists hung on the doors indicate who will move into which house. There is a festive mood in the air. One child, eager to keep the house as beautiful as possible, is busy lining up all the shoes in a neat row. Mothers and children mop the floors once more to make sure everything is bright and clean before they move into their new home – after all, they’ve all been waiting for this day for two and a half years. “Their” SOS Children’s Village is just about ready!

The mothers referred to above are young women who undergone training to become SOS Children’s Village mothers. Many of the boys and girls moving into the Medan SOS Children’s Village today lost their real mothers to the tsunami in December 2004. In the time after the disaster, they initially lived in camps, and then in temporary accommodations provided by the SOS Children’s Villages relief agency. The fact that they can move into a real home with their SOS Children’s Village mothers is owed not least to Bertelsmann and its employees. The company and its workers had donated €1.4 million to set up a SOS Children’s Villages mentor program which supports tsunami orphans.

“Bertelsmann, its business divisions, its companies and its many, many employees displayed impressive solidarity with the people hit by the tsunami,” declared 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 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 wonderful opportunity for them. They take care of their new families lovingly – not an easy task, since many of the children lived in difficult circumstances even before the tsunami. But there’s no room for thoughts of gloom on the day of the move – too much to do. That evening, the village community gathers in the main hall to pray for happiness and health and a peaceful coexistence.

Medan is the first of six villages in Indonesia, India and Thailand that children have already moved into. But the other villages are making good progress as well. The first few houses in Meulaboh and Banda Aceh will probably be ready for move-in before the year is out, despite extremely 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 aren’t 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,” says Ute Kister of SOS Children’s Villages.

Continuity means going to school, playing football, attending dance classes and reading books together in a “reading club,” all activities that the SOS Children’s Villages can offer with the help of specially trained mothers. In Meulaboh, for instance, the teens have established their own magazine called “Madina,” for which they write articles, in the process learning how to handle computers. SOS Children’s Villages has had particularly good experiences collaborating with SOS social centers. In Nagapattinam, India, where construction of the SOS Children’s Village is in full swing, some 1,500 children and adults receive basic medical care at the nearby social center, where they can also enroll in courses to teach them tailoring, handicrafts, computers or ship engine mechanics. Though construction of the SOS Children’s Villages isn’t completely finished yet, the employees try to make possible a “normal” life in the temporary children’s villages, as in Pondicherry, India. Here, the SOS Children’s Village mothers are especially proud of some of their charges, who took first place in track racing events at their schools. Local celebrations and birthday parties help to strengthen the village community prior to move-in.

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.

In sum, these are impressive results, especially in light of the problems seen in other regions. As a rule, the SOS Children’s Villages work very closely with the local authorities. But reconstruction isn’t necessarily possible at all locations. Civil war-like conditions in Sri Lanka currently make it impossible for SOS Children’s Villages to send permanent employees to the region at this time. Staffers report that unforeseen occurrences regularly crop up, and riots and fighting have become commonplace. Hence, plans for an SOS Children’s Village on the east coast had to be shelved for the time being. Nonetheless, the relief agency plans to assist with reconstruction here when the time comes, true to its declared goal of continuing to provide assistance to the people.

In December 2004, Bertelsmann AG quickly decided to donate a million euros to the SOS Children’s Villages relief organization to provide long-term aid to the regions hit by the tsunami. In a subsequent fund drive, employees in Germany , the U.S. and U.K., Spain, Chile, Mexico, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Austria donated a total of €200,000, which was then matched by the company. The €1.4 million collected in this way went to finance mentorships for 250 children who lost their parents in the tsunami disaster. Bertelsmann plays a key role, for instance, in ensuring that the children in the SOS Children’s Villages have food, clothing, medical care and education for the next ten years. And in light of the largely excellent progress made in building the villages, hopefully all the children who are still housed in temporary accommodations will soon be able to move into a new home.