Posted by: Worldcitizen Willow | June 5, 2010

Visit with SOS Children’s Village


I took a taxi yesterday through the tangled streets of Manila to the neighbourhood of Ayala Alabang – the home of SOS Children’s villages Manila.  I had no idea what to expect and  was surprised by the beauty and tranquility that surrounded me there.  It is a low rise brick compound of several “homes” surrounded by a beautiful tropical garden. There are photos on the big side wall of the main building of  happy healthy looking children who are the inhabitants of this place.  I went to the reception area to check in and was taken to the office of Carmela Tarroja, Director of Fundraising.

Carmela explained that SOS had ended up in such a spectacular and well off neighbourhood because of its Austrian founder George Winternitz, who bought the land and started SOS in the 1960s when this area was surrounded only by barren fields.  Manila development has skyrocketed since then and now SOS is surrounded by the glamourous homes and gardens of celebrities and the like.  Carmela told me of the recent Children’s Rights Caucus that SOS initiated – a coming together of stakeholders from different provinces, funded by UNICEF, and led by Children.   SOS Children’s Villages works with the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and houses 100 children who have either been orphaned, or suffered abuse and neglect, often a result of drug-addicted parents, or the modern cause of family breakdown – parents that go overseas to work and end up with a new life overseas, forgetting children waiting at home in the Philippines.  The (what I think) fantastic part of their philosophy is the family-based care that they provide.  The children are housed 5-8 to a home, each home led by a “mother” who is like a real mother to the children, in every way except biological.  They choose single women or widows who have no family responsibilities for this important work.  Their is also a director for each group of homes that serves as a “father” to the children as well.  The children stay here, living a normal life , interacting with others in the surrounding community, going to school, etc until they are about 20 or 21 and able to forge a new life outside on their own.  Carmela beamed with pride as she talked about the successful “graduates” of SOS who are now doctors, pilots, teachers, secretaries and tradespeople.   “We are equally proud of them all, as long as they are happy in their work”, states Carmela.

Carmela also mentioned an organization called Children International which works with children in extreme poverty.   Children living in dumpsters and in railway stations, for example.  Many street children are involved in prostitution, exploited as slave labour, and are addicted to drugs, particularly “Rugby” – the adhesive used in flip flops.

After my informative conversation with Carmela, I went on to meet Noel Leyson, the retired director of the village, and now project consultant.  He told me that SOS intakes children referred by DSWD from the ages of 3 to 10.  Babies get sent to another organization called CRIBS.  Leyson, a former priest, inspired me with his genuine warmth as he relayed to me his sadness and recognition of the pain of loneliness felt by the children he meets, who have lost their families or have been alienated by their parents.  He explained how new “mothers” and “fathers” of the Village are provided with counselling for an emotional healing process as part of their training before they can work there.  He also noted that the economic crisis had delayed plans to have another SOS village built in the Philippines (there are currently 8 in the country).  However, there are hopes now to have the new Village built by 2016.

The Philippines government is working on reducing the numbers of orphans by instituting compulsory programs to educate all overseas workers on family values and cultural integration BEFORE they leave the country , and also by making it easier to adopt children domestically and internationally.

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