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 shoestring.
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 care in a family environment 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 is active in 136 countries and territories around the world, helping hundreds of thousands of children each year through alternative care, family strengthening, schools, health centres, and other community-based work.

SOS Children's Villages through the years


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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


SOS Children's Villages family strengthening programmes are established.


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.


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.


The 500th SOS Children's Village is opened and the organisation turns 60. The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, to which SOS Children's Villages significantly contributed, are officially welcomed by the UN General Assembly.


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


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


Over 82,000 children and young people are being raised and cared for in 554 SOS Children's Villages and over 600 SOS youth facilities worldwide. Another 328,000 children and adults benefit from SOS family strengthening.


SOS Children's Villages associations from 11 countries share good practices in creating community-integrated family strengthening and family-like care programmes in urban settings; SOS Children's Villages Madagascar is awarded a UNESCO-Hamdan Prize for outstanding teacher training; and international football star Vincent Kompany becomes International Ambassador.


In response to the refugee crisis, SOS Children's Villages provides on-the-ground aid to refugees, internally displaced families and unaccompanied children in at least 12 countries.


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.