Meeting children at eye level
|Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children's Villages for 27 years © Alexander Gabriel|
Under Kutin, who grew up himself in the first SOS Children's Village in the world in Imst in Austria, SOS Children's Villages has become an organisation operating on a global scale. Since he joined it in 1985, the number of SOS Children's Villages alone has more than doubled, not to mention hundreds of other projects and social programmes for today over 1.5 million children and adults.
Twenty-seven years ago SOS Children's Villages was represented in over 80 countries; today the number is 133 countries and territories*. For Helmut Kutin however, the individual child and the quality of emotional relationships were always the prime concern, alongside the quantitative expansion of the activities. For as Kutin explains, "Too often children serve as decorative function, as objects, and are rarely focused on as independent personalities. We should show more courage and really place them centre stage." His principle has been to "meet the children at eye level."
|Siddhartha Kaul, candidate for the presidency © Alexander Gabriel|
It is anticipated that Siddhartha Kaul will follow in Kutin and Gmeiner's footsteps. An Indian by birth, he has grown up with the children's aid organisation since the 1950s, through his father's leading role in establishing SOS Children's Villages in India. He was village director, then regional director, and finally, since 2003, the continental director for all Asia. Helmut Kutin on his potential successor: "What I appreciate most about Siddhartha Kaul, apart from his talent for organising and his realistic view in economic matters, is his great human empathy and the deep affection he feels towards the SOS mothers, children and young people." Siddhartha Kaul was nominated as a candidate after an extensive selection process, and will stand for election by the General Assembly on 22 June.
Goal by 2020: a safe home for one million children
The General Assembly of SOS Children's Villages International is held every four years. Around 350 delegates from 133 countries are expected for the three-day conference in Innsbruck, the headquarters of the umbrella association. As well as making new appointments to positions and committees, the assembly sets the course for the next four years, establishes goals and adopts programmes. Today SOS Children's Villages supports 58% more children worldwide than it did in 2008 - around 370,000 children living in SOS families and youth care programmes, as well as children who are supported within their biological family. In addition there are over 1 million children and adults who are helped by SOS Children's Villages through schools, kindergartens, vocational training centres, social centres, clinics and emergency relief programmes. The goal is to secure a home for a million children by 2020: in their biological families, SOS families, or foster families. To achieve this goal, the General Assembly will decide on the strategic emphasis and the framework required for the next four years.
Children's need as great as ever
|At the SOS Children's Village in Malakal, South Sudan © Conor Ashleigh|
Unfortunately the need for organisations like SOS Children's Villages is evident every single day: all over the world SOS co-workers are faced with shockingly widespread domestic violence against children; every form of abuse and neglect of children; structural violence against children when their rights are denied (no or insufficient access to food, water, medical care and education); and political, state-directed or tolerated violence against children through discrimination, expulsion and wars. As is now becoming dramatically clear in Greece, the situation of families has an immediate impact on children's living conditions, a fact that is both logical and alarming for children's aid organisations like SOS Children's Villages.
The demand for high-quality alternative care is also rising, in part because there is a greater awareness that already traumatised children become traumatised many times over and for their entire lives if alternative care fails as well. There is now extensive specialist knowledge about what children without parental care need in such difficult living conditions, and SOS Children's Villages has been able to use this in recent years for intensive political lobbying, making major progress. The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 2009 and with considerable input from SOS Children's Villages, was a true milestone. At last political weight is being attached to children who cannot grow up in their biological family. And finally, quality standards for alternative care have been firmly anchored internationally and successively adopted by states into their legislation. Without political commitment on child protection and children's rights - not as lip service but as an integral part of every political agenda and concrete action - real change in relation to children cannot be achieved.
|At the SOS Social Centre in Retalhuleu, Guatemala - Photo: Joris Lugtigheid|
For instance, SOS Children's Villages is currently working towards the inclusion of children as a main focus of global measures in the new Development Agenda following the expiry of the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2015. This is the only way that sufficient public funds will flow into development work on behalf of children. The UN agenda for the post-2015 period is also decisive at European level, as it influences where EU resources are allocated. SOS Children's Villages is part of a campaign group for children's rights in Brussels to ensure that children are taken into account in the new EU budget for 2014-2020. The Cypriot EU Presidency that begins in July will make child poverty and children's welfare a top priority - another opportunity for SOS Children's Villages to campaign for children in alternative care.
Solidarity with children undiminished, despite great uncertainty
The economic crisis that began in 2008 also represents a great challenge for SOS Children's Villages for a number of reasons: in fundraising, because of the higher living costs in many countries, and because more and more families are getting into hopeless situations. In spite of global economic instability, SOS Children's Villages has so far managed to continue, and even expand, its dedicated work, relatively unscathed and without major cuts. Children's welfare is close to the hearts of many people, especially private donors, who have confidence in SOS Children's Villages' work on behalf of some of the poorest children in the world, even in times of crisis.
*The territories are Kosovo, the Palestinian territories, and Somaliland