July 8 2008

Friends for one million children

18th General Assembly of SOS-Kinderdorf International

07/07/2008 - From 3 to 5 July 2008, the Congress Innsbruck/Austria hosted the General Assembly of all SOS Children's Villages associations worldwide, the highest decision-making body of SOS-Kinderdorf International. Around 250 delegates from 126 countries set the course for SOS Children's Villages' global work to come, and elected the President and other bodies.

HERE I AM - a strong statement from children at the opening ceremony/Photo: SOS ArchivesThe
The kick-off was a press conference given by the President of SOS Children's Villages, Mr Helmut Kutin, and Vice President Barbara François, as well as Secretary-General Mr Richard Pichler and Regional Directors Mr Wilhelm Huber (responsible for the region East Africa) and Mr Sebastian Corti (responsible for the Middle East).

press conference kicked off the General Assembly 2008
The press conference kicked off the General Assembly 2008 - Photo: SOS Archives

Right from the start, Helmut Kutin brought one issue in particular to the attention of the press representatives: the right to childhood. "For many children, a carefree childhood is not a matter of course, especially in the light of the rising food prices, which affect those living in the poorest countries much more than us in Central Europe. This can mean that children can no longer go to school, since their school fees are needed to purchase food." Raising funds for SOS Children's Villages' projects is therefore a constant challenge. Barbara François, who is also the president of the Belgian fundraising association, added that "we have set ourselves the goal of making one million SOS friends by 2016. That won't be easy, considering the current state of the economy, but we, the 18 promoting and supporting associations of SOS Children's Villages, are confident that we will reach this goal. People understand our concerns."

Children performed songs and dances at the opening ceremony. The song "Here I am" made a strong point for the right to childhood and was given a standing ovation by the delegates - Photo: SOS Archives

The difficult conditions for SOS Children's Villages work were also addressed by Wilhelm Huber and Sebastian Corti. Wilhelm Huber spoke of the still anarchical situation in Somalia: "After a few periods that gave reason for hope, the situation has become particularly bad again. The people are intimidated, feel abandoned, especially since many NGOs - as opposed to SOS Children's Villages - are only in the country for a short period of time." SOS Children's Villages has been active in Somalia since 1985, with the SOS clinic providing essential medical services.

The same applies to the psychosocial programmes in the West Bank. Four years ago, SOS Children's Villages began offering therapeutical and counselling services, which have been developing step by step ever since. SOS Children's Villages is also active in the Gaza Strip, offering "Family Strengthening Programmes". These programmes aim to avoid children being forced to fend for themselves or being placed into out-of-home care by protecting and strengthening families. In spite of all difficulties - or perhaps even due to them - people have developed a sense of looking out for each other, according to Sebastian Corti: "The contrast couldn't be greater: after driving through desolate landscapes that look like they've been carpet-bombed, you get to the SOS Children's Village - and become a witness of so much mutual support, love and hope. That's what gives you the strength to continue."

Photo: SOS Archives
The plenary session, with delegates from 126 countries, set the course for the years to come - Photo: SOS Archives

Secretary-General Richard Pichler took the opportunity to explain the family strengthening programmes in more detail. They are an addition to the actual SOS Children's Villages, a support for families at risk of sinking into poverty. The family strengthening programmes work preventively to keep these families from splitting up and the children from ending up on the streets or having to be taking into facilities such as the SOS Children's Villages. In the future - by 2016, to be precise - SOS Children's Villages endeavours to take on even more responsibility and give one million children the opportunity to grow up in a loving, caring family - be it an SOS family or their own.

The General Assembly itself focussed on two topics in particular: the strategies for the period of 2009 to 2016, i.e. child protection and children's rights. The General Assembly stressed once more SOS Children's Villages' uncompromising commitment to child protection and children's rights in their own work as well as by lobbying with external partners.

Photo: SOS Archives
Her Highness Princess Salimah Aga Khan, international ambassador for SOS Children's Villages, was guest of honour at the General Assembly - Photo: SOS Archives

Furthermore, Helmut Kutin was re-elected President of SOS Children's Villages and several others elected into office, such as Margaret Nkrumah from Ghana, who will support Helmut Kutin as Vice President. Aside from these official items on the programme, there still remained enough time to celebrate the colourful diversity within the organisation. The opening ceremony, which took place on 3 July 2008, was a particularly colourful occasion, since most of the delegates attended wearing their country's traditional dress. In no time at all, it had morphed into a genuine celebration of cultural diversity, an authentic symbol of understanding and solidarity among nations with one shared vision, one common goal: a loving home for every child.