SOS Children's Villages has been present in India since 1963, our work developed rapidly all over the country and we started our activities in Bhubaneswar in 1991. The state of Orissa remains amongst the poorest in India and in spite of governmental interventions the rate of poverty reduction has been slower than elsewhere in the country. To make matters worse Orissa is often hit by natural disasters such as cyclones and floods.
A rise in the number of families living in poverty
Children in our care during an "Environment Day" meeting (photo: SOS archives).
Bhubaneswar is the capital of the Indian state of Orissa. It is home to around 800,000 people and is an important economic and cultural centre. The city has grown in recent years, but the rise in the population has not been met with a corresponding expansion of infrastructure and services.
Like many cities in India, Bhubaneswar is a city of contrasts and the living standards of the population vary enormously. The city has attracted many people, but not all of them end up improving their situation. Those with an education move here to join the many industries which are found in the area, including the growing IT sector, and can therefore improve their lives. Others arrive from rural areas or with little education and unfortunately end up living in poverty in their new urban setting.
The state of Orissa remains amongst the poorest in the county, and the rate of poverty reduction has also been slower than elsewhere in India. An estimated 40 per cent of the state's urban population lives in poverty. In spite of various government programmes, the high level of unemployment remains a concern. It is estimated that there more than 370 slums in the city of Bhubaneswar, and that three million people live here.
Children are the first victims of the deprived social and economic situation. Malnutrition and illnesses are common, especially when families do not have access to clean water, sanitation facilities or timely medical treatment. Many children do not go to school, but rather spend their days trying to make some money on the streets of the city in order to contribute to the family income.
Girls are particularly at risk of discrimination and ill-treatment. For example, girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school. Worse still, is the threat of human trafficking as most victims are young girls who are promised work as domestic servants but are then forced into prostitution.
Working closely with the community, aiming for self-sufficiency
SOS Children's Villages has had support from the local government since it started working in the area. An important part of our work is related to supporting vulnerable families so that they can stay together. We continue to work in close partnership with local agencies and community-based organisations in order to identify families who are in need of our support.
What we do in Bhubaneswar
Young girls from SOS Children's Village Bhubaneswar on an educational outing (photo: SOS archives).
A central part of the work that SOS Children's Villages carries out in Bhubaneswar is related to supporting children and families near where our organisation is based. Our SOS Social Centres run a family strengthening programme which offers a comprehensive package of services to enable families to stay together and take good care of their children. When needed, the SOS Kindergarten can also provide day care for young children. We aim to raise awareness of hygiene and child rights and give guidance on parenting skills. We provide families with food, as well as educational support and with medical treatment. In order for families to generate income, we offer them vocational training, career counselling and advice. If self-help groups do not exist, we enable their creation. Due to the fact that literacy in the area is low, we also run adult literacy programmes, which are particularly attended by mothers.
When children can no longer stay with their families, they can find a loving home with one of the fifteen SOS families, where they grow up with their sisters and brothers. The children attend the SOS Kindergarten and local schools, thus making friends with children from neighbouring families and integrating into the community. The children take part in many activities organised locally and the children from nearby families also participate in festivals that we celebrate. When the young adults are ready to leave their SOS families they can join our SOS Youth Programme. With the support of qualified professionals they are guided through this new stage of their lives, as they start vocational training courses, attend higher education and look for work. The young people are encouraged to develop perspectives for their future, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions.