January 9 2012

Global economic crisis affecting children everywhere

In reflecting the events of 2011, SOS Children's Villages President Helmut Kutin outlines how children are impacted by changes in the global political and economic landscape

09/01/2012 - In 2011 the world witnessed what became known as the Arab spring, a series of demonstrations that led to political change and in some cases upheaval across the Arab world in countries including Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Political instability also affected Côte d’Ivoire while a tsunami hit Japan and flooding devastated Thailand. Meanwhile, the people of South Sudan celebrated the birth of their very own republic.    

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Mr. Helmut Kutin - Photo: SOS Archives
Mr Helmut Kutin has visited most of these countries during his 26 year tenure as President of SOS Children’s Villages International. In light of all the turmoil he was asked if he thought the world will be a better place for children in 2012.

Mr Kutin: I can only hope that in 2012 it will be a better place for children because all this upheaval will have an effect on many children. In Japan it was difficult to go to school because of the tsunami and particularly because of the effects of subsequent nuclear radiation. In East Africa children have been suffering – I was there in August. It has been a year of many natural calamities and political unrest. Every revolution does not end with a better future for children. It will take time and patients to establish a new order in these countries, particularly in a huge country like Egypt. There is a tremendous effort needed by all people to realise that the world will not change overnight. Even with the most successful revolution they will have to cope to build up the country and new systems step by step.  I believe we should do everything possible to provide children in the affected areas with some support first and foremost in health and nutrition, secondly by providing makeshift small setups where children can play and learn a little.

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Tsunami affected children in Japan - Photo: Alertnet.org
Some Europeans and Americans say they are the new poor as they suffer an economic crisis, how does this affect people in developing countries and SOS Children’s Villages you visited over the past year?

Mr Kutin: Definitely, the economic crisis in the USA and Europe does affect these people, it creates a lot of insecurity, it creates a lot of pressure on all markets. This insecurity goes down to the smallest SOS families. Can I buy my food tomorrow? Is it still possible as prices are increasing all the time, nobody knows where this is going at the moment? The world powers, Europe and the USA have lived above their means. Now the whole world has to pay a price for it. I have hope, that all leaders will join to improve matters in 2012.

Two years after a massive earth quake - half a million Haitians continue to live in slums where the threat of cholera and violence gives cause for alarm. With the best efforts in the world can organisations like SOS Children’s Villages really make a significant difference in such places?

Mr Kutin: Before the earthquake there were a minimum of two million Haitians living in slums in dire poverty, without hope; similar to Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka after the tsunami, there was tragic loss of live and property. They are all definitely in a better position today, because all the input from around the world was put to good. Organisations have to learn that the people have to do something for themselves also.  

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Destiny bound children motivate Helmut Kutin - Photo: Donald Bostrum
You are 70 years young, you spend on average 280 days of the year promoting and  visiting  some of the 350,000 children in SOS Children’s Villages across the globe, you are in essence the modern day Marco Polo what motivates you? 

Mr Kutin: The children! Time and again when I see newly arrived children in SOS Children’s Villages or in our family strengthening programmes and I see them progressing and getting ahead in education, having care and protection. This is the top motivation. Today when I left a new village in Ratanakiri in Cambodia, I witnessed the tremendous joy of children who have been there for two months, some for two weeks. Already, they have shown that they are a destiny bound community in trying to help each other and their mothers. This is the motivation for me and my co-workers - every young man and every woman who can stand on their own feet in their own society in their own country. This is not only motivation; this is the ultimate decoration you can receive in your life.

This is a transcript of an audio interview conducted with Mr Helmut Kutin, President of SOS Children’s Villages, speaking from Cambodia by mobile phone with Tommy Standún.