SOS Children's Village Rwanda on September 24 celebrated 40 years of existence in Rwanda in an event at which officials stressed the organisation's desire to keep making the world a better place for children and young people without parental care or at the risk of losing it.
SOS Children's Villages is the largest welfare organisation in the world and was founded by an Austrian philanthropist Herman Gmeiner in 1949 shortly after the Second World War and it was initially aimed at taking care of children who had been left homeless by the war.
In Rwanda, it was founded in 1979 as a non-denomination organisation, and since then, SOS Children's Village Rwanda has been able to establish itself in four districts of Gasabo, Gicumbi, Nyamagabe and Kayonza.
In the 40 years SOS Children's Villages Rwanda has been operating in Rwanda, a total of 17,353 children have been impacted under different programmes which include Family-like care, Family Strengthening Programme, Education Programmes as well as Youth related projects.
The Family Strengthening Programme is a community outreach programme that aims at empowering vulnerable families to overcome economic hardships, to prevent child abandonment or neglect and to guarantee quality child care.
Giving out cows to such families, Village savings Associations, vocational training for the youth as well as adult literacy have been used to achieve this program's aims.
The education programme is the most popular among all three and it boasts of nine education facilities which include four SOS kindergartens, four SOS primary schools as well as one SOS technical high school.
The technical and vocational education programme empowers 480 young people in welding and plumbing. The project started in 2017 and will end in 2020. The EDC/Akazi Kanoze project empowers 100 young people to gain skills and better access to jobs, self-employment or further education in Gasabo district.
Speaking at the celebrations of the 40years of existence in Rwanda, Solina Nyirahabimana the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion commended the good work done by SOS Children's Villages Rwanda as it is a helping hand to the roles of the government and her ministry in particular.
"I am really grateful to the work done by SOS Children's Villages Rwanda in helping children and the government with its roles of ensuring that children have access to a family and a quality education. It is such a big helping hand to the roles of the government I serve and my ministry to be exact," she said.
"It is against that background that my ministry pledges total support to SOS Children's Villages Rwanda," she concluded
The event was attended by a number of prominent individuals from different national and international bodies such as Siddhartha Kaul the President of SOS Children's Villages International, Geraldine Umutesi the Deputy Director-General of Imbuto Foundation, as well as a representative from the European Union.
At the event, a number of now successful and well to do individuals who are what they are because of SOS Children's Villages Rwanda shared their stories on how they became members of the family and what it helped them.
On behalf of SOS Children's Villages Rwanda care leavers, Joseph Munyentora shares his story which is a touching one.
"I was a young child by then and as you all know the tragedy that befell our country in 1994. I was brought to SOS Children's Villages Rwanda because I had no family to take care of me. I was integrated into a family that had other children and our guardian really took care of us like her biological children," he says.
He says that there was no hope at all for him because as a young kid, he had nowhere to go but SOS Children's Villages Rwanda shone a ray of light upon his life and it enabled him to attend school and he now runs a successful business in Kenya.
Siddhartha Kaul the President of SOS Children's Villages International, who was the chief guest at the celebrations, noted that there is a lot that has been done by SOS in trying to see that all children have a family.
"Our main concern is to see that all children have a family. We have been here for 40 years and we were here in the most difficult times in the history of Rwanda and we would love to thank the Government of Rwanda for its support," he said.
He said that there are many reasons that can lead to a child without parental care or at the risk of losing it, cited poverty, social exclusion, war and natural disasters and commended countries that are trying to see that the avoidable causes are dealt with.
He praised the Rwandan government for its efforts in seeing that there is peace in the country which will ensure harmony and stability hence reducing the number of homeless children.
Clothilde Mukarwego is one of the "mamas" who were caretakers of the children that SOS Children's Villages Rwanda was taking care of. In an interview with The New Times, she says that she began taking care of these homeless children from 1988 up to 2014 when she retired.
"I took care of vulnerable from 1988 up to 2014 and that makes it 26 years. In total, I can say I had over 40 children who were both boys and girls and I can confidently say that they really make me proud when I see where they are now," she said.
Mukarwego says that the secret to taking care of children without care is to love them and never show that there is one who is your favorite as all these children is acceptance and love.
She says that many of the children she took care of are working and married and always look forward to their next visit as they always bring her clothes and essential requirements.
The Board Chairman and Legal Representative of SOS Children's Village Rwanda, Jean Gakwaya noted that SOS Children's Villages Rwanda came in at the right time to the plight of many Rwandans.
"It should be noted that SOS Children's Villages Rwanda is one of the Non-Government Organisations that never left the country even when Rwanda was going through its darkest moments. SOS Children's Villages Rwanda stayed here and made sure that children get where to live in families and we shall keep doing that to ensure that children are in loving families," he said.
Rewards in form of rings (which are symbolic in SOS Children's Villages ) were given to the 'mamas' who dedicated their lives to taking care of children without parental care as a way of publically thanking them for the good work they did/still doing.
SOS Children's Villages has grown to help children all over the world. From the first Children's Village in Imst Austria, SOS Children's presence is now in135 countries and territories.