The children's party that was held on 24 June 2006 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the second oldest SOS Children's Village association in the world was extremely moving. Many friends, companions, people who used to live in SOS Children's Villages, children who are currently being cared for and their SOS mothers came to Busigny, where the first SOS Children's Village in France, which was the first SOS Children's Village outside of Austria, opened in1956.
The President of SOS Children's Villages Helmut Kutin and the Vice President of SOS-Kinderdorf International Barbara François were present at the event, as was Gilbert Cotteau. He was the one who found out about Hermann Gmeiner when he read a newspaper article in 1953. He met Hermann Gmeiner that same year. Gilbert Cotteau was the first person outside of Austria to develop an interest in SOS Children's Villages and contacted Hermann Gmeiner. Just three years after the two had met, they laid the cornerstone of SOS Children's Village Busigny. Gilbert Cotteau was just 22 at that time.
In his speech, Gilbert Cotteau spoke of the beginnings, of a touching experience: a key moment in his life when as a young teacher a boy had asked him: "Will you give me a worse mark because I'm an orphan?" He found out from the other school children that the boy and his siblings had lost their parents in a car accident and that the siblings were living apart in different children's homes. Gilbert Cotteau had been deeply shocked by the fact that the siblings had been separated after the loss of their parents. That was what finally led him to Hermann Gmeiner's idea for SOS Children's Villages. One of the main principles of the idea is that siblings remain together and are brought up in one family.
Even now, the 13 SOS Children's Villages in France place great emphasis on providing care for groups of siblings. The French association itself publicly speaks out in favour of keeping brothers and sisters together in out-of-home care. For children who cannot live with their biological family and have had to go through the trauma of a family break-up, being separated from their siblings would be yet another threat to their well-being. Finding out-of-home care in which brothers and sisters remain together is essential to ensure the emotional security and stability of each individual child.
After the speeches, congratulations and the children’s artistic performances, a man came up to Gilbert Cotteau and gave him a special present. The man had been in the first group of children that had been taken into Busigny. He used to wear a chain around his neck with tag that had the number 861 stamped on it. 861 was his number at the orphanage where he had been living until he went to the SOS Children's Village, his identification. He handed the chain over to Gilbert Cotteau with the words: "I got my real name back at the SOS Children's Village."
President Helmut Kutin congratulated SOS Children's Villages France on behalf of the whole of SOS Children's Villages for its magnificent work over the previous 50 years. In addition to the 13 SOS Children's Villages in France, the association supports 30 SOS Children's Villages outside Europe. France, like Austria, Italy and Germany, was one of the founders of the umbrella organisation of SOS-Kinderdorf International in 1960 in Strasbourg.