Our visit to S.O.S Children’s Village was a very remarkable experience. As a graduate student my research is mainly focused on providing services, such as education, to youth in developing countries. Upon arrival, I was curious and concerned about a few things related to the children’s livelihood. Luckily we were welcomed by a host who was just as concerned for the children. This made me feel a sense of security to know that these children are around people who genuinely care for them.
Initially, upon arrival I was amazed by the community’s structure. The way that the village was set up it made me feel at home, as a visitor. There were multiple housing units but they were all set up in a circle, with the midpoint being the playground where youth interact daily. I know that this may not seem very important but the way a place is designed in very crucial in how welcomed the youth will feel. In my opinion they seemed very comfortable. This was confirmed when the buses from school came back filled with youth and they all met up on the playground to exchange warm welcomes.
Afterward we were taken to an open area, with our host, and encouraged to ask questions. My main concerns were related to the youth exposure to education, and welfare. I was please to find out that youth attended local formal institutions. Although, they are able to attend school with other youth in the community, through further questioning, we found out that teachers in the school system are not offered any additional training on how to encounter the youth of SOS. I think that it is important for teacher to be able to understand the various traumas that these youths face so that they may be able to teach them in effective ways.
Later on, we proceeded to meet one of the families. A typical SOS family is completed with a mother who is responsible for 8-10 children on average. The mothers are offered compensation but it is preferred that a mother does not have children (outside of the village). The logical explanation given by the host is that, they are not in favor of having a mother leave her children to come take care of the children at SOS. We raised a question about the Children at SOS being exposed to a father figure and they acknowledge that they are working towards having father figures a part of the SOS children’s village. One of the ways that children and mothers are paired is based on religion. Although they do not have a household for Muslim children due to the low demand, they have households for other religions. The household that I visited included four children. There were three girls and one boy. The mother that was there was a new mother, their other mother retired. In the home, we were able to see the awards and trophies that the youth had. On the wall in the living room was a photo of a former youth who was awarded for having the highest grades in her school. One of my most cherished memories was being able to exchange childhood games with the youth.
We stayed with the family until it was time for the youth to engage in their daily sports. Some of the Cornell students played soccer with the youth. After a very competitive game of soccer, the Cornell students did not win. My encounter with the youth helped to confirm that the work I am doing in graduate school to help better education for youth in developing nations, is worth it.