2004 is a historic year for SOS Children's Villages in India: the founding of the SOS Children's Village association headed by Shri Jagan Nath Kaul is now 40 years old. Once the association had come into being in 1964, the first SOS Children's Village in Greenfields followed, and it was built with great efforts on stony grounds.
In the four decades since, it has been possible to build 35 SOS Children's Villages and almost 70 other supporting facilities such as kindergartens, schools, vocational training, social and medical centres - more than in any other country in the world. In addition, numerous emergency relief programmes have been carried out.
The highlights of the anniversary celebrations all happened in October, and the main event was the meeting between the Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and the President of SOS Children's Villages Helmut Kutin. Helmut Kutin was accompanied by Shri J.N. Kaul, the "man of the first hour" and President of SOS Children's Village India, by an SOS Mother, ten children from different SOS Children's Villages, as well as students who are participating in the Young Ambassadors Programme, among other.
This programme is being very successful implemented in numerous schools in many states. Making the students conscious of disadvantaged children and their living conditions on the fringes of society will strengthen the students' sense of responsibility and consideration and will motivate them to actively support others.
President Kalam had extensive talks with the children. To one of the children's questions, he answered, "In our country almost 560 million people are young people and if young people work hard nothing can stand in the way of India becoming a great and developed nation."
India's President honoured the work and the concept behind SOS Children's Villages and encouraged its staff to continue working for the benefit of needy children.
All in all, the 40th anniversary celebrations were more aimed at emphasizing the commitment in the future to the weakest members of the Indian society and to efforts to make their fates known to the public, rather than to reminiscing.
The first event was an auction in the Austrian embassy in New Delhi, in which the works of over 70 prominent Indian artists came under the hammer in the presence of President Kutin.
On 25 October, also in the presence of Presidents Kutin and Shri J.N. Kaul, the initiative Yeh Dosti Zindagi Bhar Ki was started in the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, through which a network of volunteers and sponsors supporting SOS Children's Villages is expected to form. The prominent advocate of this initiative is the renowned actress, former member of parliament and social activist Shabana Azmi, who was introduced as the first Goodwill Ambassador for SOS Children's Villages India.
Shabana Azmi made a strong appeal to businesses and those offering social services, not to pass the responsibility for the socially weak completely to the state and also not to trust western imported aid, "India has a large fund of resources which should be utilized properly," said Sabana Azmi, "many people in India are unaware of the philanthropic needs and means of helping a needy."
She also said that her function as SOS goodwill ambassador would not be too different from the work she has been doing until now for those living in slums in Mumbai, "my role as an SOS volunteer would only be a continuation of the work that I am already doing. Being part of the SOS family network would facilitate in reaching out to a large number of people," said Shabana Azmi.
President Kutin said, in his speech, "I congratulate SOS Children's Villages India on its 40th birthday and Mr J.N. Kaul for his continuing efforts in making SOS Children's Villages India a success. I know Mr Kaul's heart is still beating for every child in need today. On this happy occasion, I will make sure that the SOS Children's Village in Srinagar becomes a reality. I also congratulate Ms Shagana Azmi heartily for being appointed the first goodwill ambassador for SOS. She is a lady of great standing and her support will be very beneficial for the needy."
For the campaign Yeh Dosti Zindagi Bhar Ki, two more prominent supporters were won: the former cricket player Kapil Dev and Mayor Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, silver medallist in Athens 2004 for shooting. Both showed to be deeply impressed by how SOS Children's Villages has made and is making positive changes in the lives of many children.
"I would like to thank all mothers and families who have taken care for many less privileged children. I am thrilled to be able to associate with Yeh Dosti Zindagi Bhar Ki campaign marking 40 years of SOS Children's Villages in India", said Kapil Dev.
Mayor Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore added, "I feel that the people that work with SOS Children's Villages get greater happiness than what I got on winning the silver at the Olympics. I appeal to people from all cross sections of the society to join hands for Yeh Dosti Zindagi Bhar Ki."