Another SOS Children’s Village to rise in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/2 Feb) – Another SOS Children’s Village would likely rise in Mindanao anytime soon.

This was what Helmut Kutin, president of the SOS Children’s Villages International, indicated during a visit of the group’s largest village in the Philippines situated in this city.

Kutin said it could be another village, “or probably more services to more children in Mindanao.”

The group has only one village in Mindanao, the one in Lanang. Seven others are in Luzon (in Lipa in Batangas, in Bataan and in Manila) and in the Visayas (in Tacloban in Leyte, Calbayog in Eastern Samar, in Cebu City and in Iloilo City).

The SOS villages in the Philippines are part of the network of villages established for abandoned and orphaned children in 132 countries.

Kutin made his announcement during a speech with SOS employees, after he expressed satisfaction at the performance of the village here. Kutin came from a similar visit to Thailand.

The SOS Village here is the largest operation in the country, housing 190 orphaned and abandoned children in 14 family houses. Each family house is managed by a surrogate mother who avowed to remain single and to devote herself only to rearing and raising the children under normal “big family” atmosphere, said Noel Tanucan, the SOS Village educator.

Leonilo N. Rivero, 37, himself a product of the SOS Village and currently the Davao director, said the village has established a community program for poor families. “Poverty is often the impulse of having these children abandoned, or orphaned. So, why wait for families to disintegrate before you extend assistance?” he stressed.

The SOS has been providing livelihood assistance to 215 families, with 624 dependent children.

The SOS was established in the Philippines 43 years ago, and the Davao village was put up 13 years later, in a land that was donated by the Archdiocese of Davao. Rivero said however that the SOS Villages Philippines is non-religious “although it so happened that all our children here are Catholics”.

“We are also present in many Islamic countries providing family-based care program and family strengthening program,” he pointed out.

Kutin said that the Philippine program was the inspiration behind the putting up of SOS Villages in mainland China, where 10 villages were already established and performing well. Vietnam also sent its key personnel to be trained here and later also established their own villages to cater to the children orphaned by war.

The SOS Villages took care of selected orphaned and abandoned children to be developed under a family-based care program. “They live, they develop, they quarrel, they fight, they play just like in any family setting,” Rivero said.

“The mother takes care of the family matter, and each one big family budgets its own resources provided by the program. Children also go to different schools of their liking or their capacity,” he said.

The SOS Villages were also the pioneer in child-protection program, Rivero said, a key pillar that was being observed in training the qualified surrogate mothers to handle a household. “She is not allowed to inflict physical nor psychological abuse on children, and any hint in her attitude prior to the selection process would already take her out of the program,” he added.

Teresita Tuble, 54, one of such 14 mothers in the village, spoke highly of three of her wards, all siblings. “Natalie Nicole, 3, the youngest thumbsucks, a sign of insecurity,” she said. Nicole’s two brothers, Hans Andre, 6, and John Marlow, 7, playfully looked at their pictures taken from a point-and-shoot camera.

“She [Nicole] just sucks her thumb, unmindful of the quarrels of the other children, until she sleeps,” Tuble said.

The children used to sleep at a dirty corner of Bankerohan market, covered only by carton boxes. They earlier made the vicinity of the People’s Park their little sleeping corner but were later disallowed by park personnel.

In 2008, they were taken in by the SOS program.

Rivero said the children would be under the care of the surrogate mother until they reach the age of 14 for boys, and 16 for girls, when they would be transferred to separate facilities. The facility for boys and the facility for girls would resemble a dormitory where they would still be visited by a facilitator to monitor their development.

The facilities would serve as their transition toward independent living in a boarding house or private dormitory, at the age of 18, when they would be studying for college. “They would still be assisted financially and morally until they graduate from college,” said Rivero.

So far, the Davao village has produced engineers and teachers, including one doctor currently assigned in a district hospital in Mati, Davao Oriental. “Many have become OFWs [overseas Filipino workers]: seamen, workers. We have also produced guidance counselors, and a dean of the information and technology unit of a school here,” Rivero proudly says of their former wards.

Kutin said that the satisfaction he derived from serving the SOS Villages International was also the same degree of gratitude that he would be giving back after he himself was also cared and molded by the same program in Austria.

“There’s no deeper sense of fulfillment than seeing these orphaned and abandoned children grow up in normal family atmosphere and charting their own course when they become adults,” he said.

During his visit, the city government also bestowed on him the honor of being an “Adopted Son of Davao City”.

“I share this honor to the people in the SOS Village. To them this honor belongs for the kind of work they have done to these children,” he said. (MindaNews)