Mamta Nivas, Nav Ratan, Shanti Kuteer. These are the names of houses in SOS Children’s village located at Faridabad. In these houses live abandoned/orphaned/separated children aged 0-14 years, taken care of by a ‘mother’, who again is an abandoned/ orphaned, destitute, widow, separated, victim of domestic/societal violence or a volunteer. This village has 20 homes for 180 children.
A visit to any of these houses leaves one full of positive energy. The dwellings are spic-n-span, thanks to the residents’ attentive care and enthusiasm. For the uninitiated, the SOS Children’s Village was founded by Austrian philanthropist Hermann Gmeiner in 1949. It is an independent, non-governmental international development organisation focusing on abandoned, destitute and orphaned children living as siblings in a village set-up. It has several branches across the globe. The Indian chapter was started in 1964. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru initiated the funding and brought UNICEF into the picture.
The Faridabad SOS centre is spread over seven-and-a-half acres; an ideal space for children, it boasts of a basket ball court, a tiny zoo, a rare bird home, a poultry farm and swings. The children are either adopted from Child Welfare Associations or police stations call the centre if they find an abandoned child. Many were even found from garbage bins or left at the village gate. Grown-up children, who remember their past, are treated with special care and kindness. They have horrific stories backlogging their minds. As per SOS protocol, they are not allowed to recall their backgrounds to anyone.
Supriti Pathak, who came here in 1994 (“through an advertisement” as she shares) reveals few inside details. “After two years’ training at SOS, I was given seven children to look after. Out of them, one was two-years old. While the smaller babies forget their past fast, the older ones take long to accept us as their own mothers. Some even feel envious of our proximity with the youngest child. But slowly things come on track. We celebrate each child’s birthday and all festivals because mostly children come from different religious backgrounds and some don’t know their past. Every child is different, and so is her/his needs.”
Running the homes requires funds. Though earlier most of SOS’ funding came from European countries, the situation has taken a worrisome turn currently. “Since the European countries see the highest numbers of high networth individuals in India, and its ever-growing GDP, they tend to develop cold feet when it comes to diverting funds to India’s SOS. They have developed an attitude of ‘why should we donate funds to India when it has so many rich people? Why not divert it to Sri Lankan and African countries where for poorest families it is tough to arrange one square meal?’” says a representative from SOS.
Though Indian corporate houses have CSR funds, they prefer to share in kind. “For instance, some paint company would offer to paint a wall with their brand name eked on it, some would like to distribute pizzas, and some would offer solar heaters. How do we get our operational cost?” the representative says. Rakesh Jinsi, National Director & Secretary General, admits that fund flow is gradually receding. “We cannot push donors beyond a certain limit. Moreover, they see that we maintain a high standard of living for children, so they think we don’t need funds.”