At present there are thirteen SOS Children's Villages, ten SOS Youth Facilities, eleven SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, twelve SOS Kindergartens, two SOS Vocational Training Centres, five SOS Social Centres (Family Strengthening Programmes) and one SOS Medical Centre.
Vietnam was one of the very first countries outside of Europe where SOS Children's Villages started supporting children, young people and families in 1967.
Although the organisation had to stop working in the country in 1976, after years of negotiations, its activities could once again be continued in 1987. The lack of support and suitable accommodation for the large number of children without parental care led to a significant growth in the organisation.
One of the poorest regions of the country
Little boy outside the family homes (photo: SOS archives)
The province of Dien Bien is located in north-western Vietnam, about 35 km from the border with Laos. The region is very mountainous, but the city of Dien Bien Phu itself is located in a large valley. The city is growing quickly and is expected to be home to 150,000 people by 2020. Numerous ethnic minorities live in the rural surroundings, each speaking their own language, and very often they do not speak Vietnamese.
Dien Bien is one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam. With a population of approximately half a million, about 45 per cent live below the poverty line. Most of the people live off farming or herding animals. Infrastructure in these more rural areas is in need of investment. Children from rural areas are often unable to attend school. On the one hand, there is a lack of schools which means that they may have to walk long distances to get to school. In addition, the extra cost of schooling is often unaffordable to parents who are struggling to make a living. At the same time, children may also be forced to contribute to the family income - by working in the home or on the land.
Most of the children we look after have lost parental care due to the social and economic hardships that their families have encountered. Many come from the ethnic minorities who live in the isolated mountainous areas and do not speak Vietnamese when they arrive in our care. SOS mothers and educators give these children intense support so that they can learn Vietnamese and do well at school. The results are encouraging: they improve their language skills, enjoy school and are fully aware of the importance of education for their future.
Human trafficking is a problem throughout Vietnam and the northern province of Dien Bien is no exception. People are trafficked both internally to other cities in Vietnam, but also across the borders to Laos, China and further afield.
Providing loving homes to children who have lost parental care
The social and economic conditions in the area make the work of our organisation particularly important. The Vietnamese authorities approached SOS Children's Villages and asked us to become active in the area due to the large number of destitute children. The provincial authorities had been trying to introduce programmes to help these children but a lack of resources had left many children in need of support.
What we do in Dien Bien Phu
An SOS family sits down together for a meal (photo: SOS archives)
If children can no longer live with their families they can find a loving home with one of the SOS mothers and their brothers and sisters. There are 14 SOS families who can care for up to 140 children. Every child has a "Child Development Plan" which is prepared in consultation with the child and the SOS mother.
Young children from the SOS families and from the neighbouring areas can go to the SOS Kindergarten. Parents welcome the existence of quality day-care, where they know their children will be looked after by professionals while they go to work or receive training. Older children can attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School; most of the children at the school come from local families.