In 1968, Hermann Gmeiner decided to take over the "Gota de Leche" orphanage in Cochabamba and turn it into an SOS Children's Village. Widely spread structural poverty and the aftermaths of natural disasters, like the "El Niño" floodings in 2008, now make the work of SOS Children's Villages in Bolivia indispensable.
In rural areas, many are excluded from progress and economic advancement
Three young Taekwondo golden medal winners from SOS Children's Village Tarija (photo: F. Espinoza)
Tarija is a town of almost 200,000 inhabitants situated in the southern part of Bolivia next to the border with Argentina. The hilly surroundings of the town are used for agricultural purposes, with a climate ideal for sugar cane, fruit and wine. Tarija’s inhabitants earn their living as small farmers or work in one of the food-processing businesses which are the region's most important employers. It is one of the Bolivia’s most developed and modern cities and many of its inhabitants feel a strong affiliation to the “European” way of life.
Child labour and lack of education can trap children in precarious socioeconomic conditions for life
However, the social divide continues to be stunning: over 30 per cent of people in the department are living in extreme poverty, which is a much higher rate than the Latin American average. About 16 per cent of children under the age of three are chronically malnourished. Although there have been great advancements as regards education in Bolivia in recent years, Tarija lags behind, with only around 70 per cent of children completing primary school, and over 10,000 children not attending school at all.
Child labour remains a problem in Tarija, with some 1,300 children working; at least half of them do not attend school. Often, these children carry out straining agricultural work or they sell merchandise in the streets in order to contribute to the family income. This leaves them no time to study or sleep sufficiently to do well at school, eventually causing them to give up their education altogether.
Both parents and children need support so that children can be healthy and well looked after, stay in education and go on to acquire professional skills.
What we do in Tarija
This woman was able to open a small business thanks to the support from SOS Children's Villages. (photo: F. Espinoza)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Tarija in 1992 with the aim of alleviating hardship in the community. The SOS Social Centres here offer a holistic and sustainable family strengthening programme that includes educational and vocational offers for mothers, as well as measures towards child and family development. The social centres provide day-care and a childminding programme, where toddlers are looked after while their parents are out making a living. There is also an SOS Children's Villages primary school in Tarija for up to 800 pupils.
For children who are no longer able to live with their parents, 14 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 135 children. They live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mothers.
When young people are ready to leave their SOS family in order to pursue further education or vocational training, shared flats are made available to them in town. With the support of qualified counsellors, they can plan their futures, increasingly take on responsibility and gradually prepare for an independent life.