SOS Children's Villages has been present in India since 1964 and has continued to grow ever since. In times of emergency, our organisation has responded with emergency relief programmes. In many cases, these developed into permanent programmes which offered support to the local people. At present SOS Children's Villages supports children, young people and families throughout India.
Many families are struggling to survive in informal settlements
Children at a community celebration (photo: SOS archives).
The city of Jammu, home to 1.5 million people, is situated in India's northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state is very mountainous, and the people living here survive mostly off agriculture.
Jammu and Kashmir has been affected by years of violent clashes due to religious conflicts between the Muslim majority and the Hindu minority and the striving for independence of some political groups. This violence and instability has marked the lives of many families; some were forced to move away from their home areas and live as refugees elsewhere.
It is estimated that one fifth of the local population lives below the nationally-established poverty line. The vast majority of the poor live in rural areas, but in recent years there has been an increase in urban poverty as many move to the cities in search of new opportunities. This has put a strain on the existing urban infrastructure and resources.
Families living in poverty face many hardships. Due to their lack of skills they struggle to find a decent job and have to survive on low incomes. Parents in these households are often unable to meet the basic material and emotional needs of their children. Children are often expected to help provide for the family, and they do not go to school or they drop out at an early age. Girls are more likely to not be enrolled in school or to drop out than boys. The disparity of the literacy rates between women and men reflects this phenomenon. In the city of Jammu, 77.4 per cent of women are literate in comparison to 89.7 per cent of men, but according to the 2011 census there are seven districts in the state where the literacy rate for women is below 50 per cent.
Our emergency relief has developed into permanent programmes
Prior to the mid-1990s, SOS Children's Villages had already run several emergency relief projects in Jammu, concentrating mainly on the destitute women and children in the refugee camps. Since 1998 we have been offering family-based care, and have increasingly focused on meeting the basic needs of local families. Education is a major concern in the region - there is a poor teacher to pupil ratio, low enrolment rates and high drop-out rates. Therefore the education we are able to provide children through the SOS Kindergarten and school are particularly important. We also run workshops to address the position of women and girls in the area. In collaboration with local non-governmental organisations we run activities to raise awareness on issues such as female foeticide and also on the need to empower girls through education.
What we do in Jammu
A workshop of women from the family strengthening programme (photo: SOS archives).
A central part of the work that SOS Children's Villages carries out in Jammu focuses on supporting children and families in the community. Our SOS Social Centres run a family strengthening programme which offers a comprehensive package of services to enable families to stay together. In addition to providing day-care in the SOS Kindergarten we aim to raise awareness of hygiene and child rights and give guidance on parenting skills. Our medical centre can provide SOS families and local families with health check-ups and vaccinations as well as with general advice and treatment. In order for families to generate income, we offer them vocational training, career counselling and advice. If self-help groups do not exist, we enable their creation.
If children can no longer stay with their families, they can find a loving home with one of the twelve SOS families, where they grow up with their sisters and brothers. The children go to the SOS Kindergarten, together with children from neighbouring families, thus making friends and integrating into the community. Older children from the SOS families and from the community attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School which provides pupils with a primary and secondary education. The school's good education is improving the lives of many children, enabling them to bring changes to their families and communities.
When the young adults are ready to leave their SOS families they can join our SOS Youth Programme. With the support of qualified professionals they are guided through this new stage of their lives, as they start vocational training courses, attend higher education or look for work. The young people are encouraged to develop perspectives for their future, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions.