April 26 2016

A long tradition of helping children affected by war

War, and its dire consequences for children, was the reason Hermann Gmeiner founded SOS Children’s Villages almost seventy years ago. Thirty years after his death, SOS Children’s Villages is still deeply engaged in helping children affected by conflicts.

Hermann Gmeiner founded the first SOS Children’s Village on the 25 April 1949 to alleviate the suffering of children who had lost their parents as a result of World War II.

Two children at the first SOS Children's Village in Imst, Austria, 1950.

Today, SOS Children’s Villages is active in 134 countries and territories. More than 85,000 children and adolescents have found a stable and loving home in 573 SOS Children’s Villages and have received support through more than 700 SOS youth programmes. More than one million young people and their families benefit from social, educational, health and emergency response programmes.

Hermann Gmeiner died thirty years ago, on
26 April 1986. Upon his request, he was buried on the grounds of the very first SOS Children’s Village in Imst, Austria.


Helping refugee children

Refugee children stay warm in a tent at the refugee site in Opatovac, Croatia, 2015. Photo: Marko Mägi

Children are particularly vulnerable in wars. The numbers of children who have had to leave their homes has increased dramatically in the last few years. Up to half of the estimated 60 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world today are children. Hermann Gmeiner’s legacy of helping young people from war-torn countries is, therefore, just as relevant as it was almost 70 years ago.

While Hermann Gmeiner initially built a home for forty war orphans in Austria, in 2015 SOS Children’s Villages was able to provide assistance to young refugees in various regions, adjusting its help to the needs and challenges of today:

  • SOS associations in at least 12 countries provided on-the-ground aid to refugees, internally displaced families and unaccompanied children.
  • Tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced children and their parents received food, clothing, hygiene goods, counselling and other services.
  • Nearly 1,000 unaccompanied or separated children received care at SOS Interim Care Centres and in SOS villages.
  • Four SOS mobile emergency response teams provided assistance for thousands of refugees on the move.
  • Eleven SOS Child Friendly Spaces served thousands of children.
  • Five Information & Communication Technology corners provided phone charging, Internet and other communications services hundreds of thousands of times for those on the move.

Child protection as a right

SOS Children’s Villages works for every child’s rights, recognising that young refugees and migrants need – and have a right to – special protection, as affirmed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 22.1). 

Find out more about the history of SOS Children’s Villages and Hermann Gmeiner

Read more about SOS Children’s Villages’ recent work with refugees