History

One person can make a difference. Working together we make lasting changes. Learn how Hermann Gmeiner, a child welfare worker, started SOS Children's Villages on a shoe-string.

The first SOS Children’s Village was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Tyrol, Austria, in 1949. As a child welfare worker, Gmeiner saw how children orphaned as a result of World War II suffered. He was committed to helping them by building loving families and supportive communities. Learn more about Hermann Gmeiner's life and work.

With the generous support of donors, child sponsors, partners and friends, Gmeiner's vision of providing loving, family-based care for children without parental care, and of helping families stay together so they can care for their children, has grown steadily over six decades.

Today, SOS Children's Villages International is active in 134 countries and territories around the world, helping hundreds of thousands of children each year through family-based alternative care, schools, health centres, family strengthening programmes, and other community-based work.

SOS Children's Villages through the years:

1949: SOS Children's Villages is founded in Austria by Hermann Gmeiner, with the first SOS Children's Village based in Imst, Austria.
 

1955: The first SOS Youth Facility is established in Innsbruck, Austria. SOS Children’s Villages associations are founded in France, Germany and Italy.

1960s: SOS Children's Villages International is established as the umbrella organisation for all SOS Children's Villages associations; SOS Children´s Villages begins working in Latin America, starting with Uruguay.

1963: The first SOS Children’s Villages in Asia are established in South Korea and India.

1970s: The first African SOS Children's Village is built in Côte d'Ivoire; first programmes are started in Ghana, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

1985: Helmut Kutin succeeds Hermann Gmeiner as President of SOS Children's Villages International.

1986: Hermann Gmeiner dies on 26 April 1986, having established around 230 SOS Children's Villages all over the world. Both SOS Children's Villages and Hermann Gmeiner himself have been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

1991: SOS Children’s Villages reopens in Czechoslovakia, and the first SOS Children’s Villages in Poland and the Soviet Union are started; SOS Children´s Villages programmes are started in Bulgaria and Romania; the first SOS Children’s Village in the USA is founded.

1995: SOS Children's Villages International achieves UN status, becoming an "NGO in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations".

2002: SOS Children's Villages International receives the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for extraordinary contributions towards alleviating human suffering.

2003: SOS Children's Villages family strengthening programmes are established.

2005: Following the tsunami disaster in Asia, SOS Children's Villages starts the largest emergency relief and reconstruction programme in the organisation's history, with programmes in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand.

2007: SOS Children's Villages helps victims of natural disasters in Bolivia, Indonesia, Peru and Uruguay, as well as those displaced in the crisis-torn regions of Sudan, Chad and Somalia. SOS family strengthening programmes now reach 80,000 children.

2009: The 500th SOS Children's Village is opened and the organisation turns 60. More than 73,400 children and young people have stable homes and better childhoods through SOS Children's Villages homes and youth facilities in 132 countries and territories. More than 1.2 million children and adults benefit from different SOS Children´s Villages social services, including family strengthening programmes, schools, vocational training centres, medical centres, and emergency relief programmes. The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, to which SOS Children's Villages significantly contributed, are officially welcomed by the UN General Assembly.

2010: Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, over 500 unaccompanied children were given a temporary home in the SOS Children’s Villages in Santo and Cap Haitien. Thousands of Haitian children were fed through the SOS Children's Villages' emergency nutrition programme.

2012: In June, SOS Children’s Villages International held its 19th General Assembly and elected Siddhartha Kaul to succeed Helmut Kutin  as president.

2013:
Over 82,000 children and youth were being raised and cared for in 554 SOS Children's Villages and over 600 SOS Youth Facilities worldwide. Another 328,000 children and adults benefitted from SOS family strengthening programmes.

2014: SOS Children's Villages associations from 11 countries shared good practices in creating community-integrated Family Strengthening and Family Based Care programmes in urban settings; SOS Children's Villages Madagascar was awarded a UNESCO-Hamdan Prize for outstanding teacher training; and international football start Vincent Kompany became International Ambassador.
 

2015: In response to the refugee crisis, SOS Children's Villages provided on-the-ground aid to refugees and internally displaced families and unaccompanied children in at least 12 countries.
 
2016: In June, Siddhartha Kaul is reelected President of SOS Children's Villages International at its 20th General Assembly. In September, SOS Children's Villages receives the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord from the Royal Family in Spain.