Esther Weiß always knew that she wanted to work with children. She joined SOS Children’s Villages six years ago, supporting other SOS mothers as an assistant caregiver. Two years ago, she moved into the SOS Children’s Village in Hinterbrühl, Austria, and became an SOS mother herself. Although being a professional caregiver is a challenging task with a lot of responsibility, she would not want her life any other way.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with children,” says Esther, 30, and smiles.
To be able to pursue her dream, she trained to become a professional social worker. During her education, she did internships in different areas of social care, including hospitals, retirement homes, family settings, group homes and in-home care.
“I liked all of the internships, but I knew that I wanted to work in a setting where you spend more time with people. Everybody deserves a second chance, and I want to be there for these people and have time for them,” says Esther. “You get to know people a lot better when you share your life with them. That’s how I grew up myself. My parents always had an open door; we always shared our lives with people from different backgrounds.”
Finding the right place to be
SOS Children’s Villages seemed just like the right place for her since the role of an SOS mother would allow her to provide continuous support to children who can no longer live with their parents.
“Back then, I came here and walked through the village and I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Six years ago, she started working at the SOS Children’s Village in Hinterbrühl in the role of assistant caregiver, supporting other SOS mothers with their tasks and responsibilities.
Becoming a family
Today, Esther takes care of two groups of siblings, three girls and two boys between the ages of three and ten. She describes the last two years as a period full of changes and challenges. “But I never thought that I wanted to leave. I just thought ‘yes, this takes a lot of strength’.”
Esther recognises how important the support of her colleagues and even her own family is.
“A real advantage of the SOS Children’s Village is that you have neighbours. You have colleagues with knowledge and experience – you have a whole village.”
When she first started living with the children, there was a period of testing and observing, Esther recalls. Then, quite quickly, they started establishing a close bond.
“You have to create shared memories,” she says. “You do this by going on a trip, spending time on the playground with the children or watching a movie together.”
Shared memories lead to stronger relationships, Esther says. They also help the children to develop trust. For children who have already lived through difficult situations in their lives, it is particularly important to be able to trust that they are taken care of, that the other person is there for them, she adds.
With five children in the house, the days tend to be busy. To be able to take care of the children’s needs, manage the household, complete administrative tasks and organise the children’s activities, Esther works in a team with two additional caregivers. “You learn to rely on others,” Esther says.
Esther in front of the house where she lives with the five children she cares for. Photo: Gerrit Reinmüller
Sharing the ups and downs of life
Living together as a family does not only mean sharing daily activities and routines, it also means sharing emotions and life realities. Esther is not only part of the children’s lives; the children also get to know her in different situations.
“They get to me when I’m tired, and they get to know me when I’m ill, and we talk about these things,” Esther says. “Sometimes it’s important to just take the time to sit down and talk to one another, no matter how much homework there is or how many household chores there are to do. Sometimes these things just have to wait, and we sit down and cuddle or cry. It’s about experiencing all emotions and circumstances of life together. That’s what makes the bond stronger.”
Preparing children for an independent future
What she hopes to convey to the children is a certain lightness in life. Children in alternative care often carry a heavy emotional burden, and she wants them to know that it is okay to drop the burden and let go from time to time.
For Esther, success in her works means supporting the children on their way to independence, where they are ready to face life’s challenges. Most of all, she hopes that they will be able to build a stable life, finish school and find a place in life where they are happy.
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