Kayes is home to some of the most vulnerable Malians

Feeling safe in his mother's arms: a one-year-old boy and his SOS mother share a quiet moment (photo: J.Honoré)

The town of Kayes, where SOS Children's Village Khouloum is located, has around 127,000 inhabitants and is about 420km north-west of the capital, Bamako.

The conditions in Kayes are amongst the worst in Mali. Children who live in female-headed households, older people, those with disabilities and suffering from HIV/AIDS are most vulnerable. The majority of the population lives off agriculture, but the region is one of the driest in Mali and food is not always available. Kayes has one of the highest incidences of child malnutrition in the country.

Children are also at risk due to the lack of adequate education and health-care. Many children do not go to school because they have to earn money or look after younger siblings while their parents are at work. The lack of economic opportunities makes many fathers migrate to other areas in search of work. The children who grow up in female-headed households are most vulnerable, especially if there is no wider family to support them.

Girls are particularly at risk in this region: they are often married off at a very young age. As a result they stop going to school and have children at a young age. Early pregnancies often lead to complications and, due to the lack of adequate medical care, the region has a very high infant and maternal mortality rate.

SOS Children's Villages continues to intensify efforts in the area

Due to the high number of children in need of support, SOS Children's Villages has been working in Kayes since 2011. We have been running a family strengthening programme to support families at risk of breaking down. We work with local authorities and other organisations so that parents can make a living and provide for their children. We also ensure that children have access to food, education and health care.

In 2012, Kayes was affected by a severe food crisis, and SOS Children's Villages started an emergency relief programme. We provided families with an immediate supply of food, but also with help so that farmers could grow food for the future. We focused on the most vulnerable: children under the age of five and pregnant and nursing mothers.

In addition, the SOS families have provided loving homes to children who have lost parental care. Initially these families lived in rented accommodation and then moved into their permanent homes once the SOS Children's Village was completed.

What we do in Khouloum

Education begins at home: an SOS mother shares her love of books (photo: B. Alou Kone)

SOS Children's Village Khouloum can provide up to 150 children with loving homes in 15 families. The children live with their brothers and sisters and are looked after by their SOS mother. Children form a close relationship within the family, and with other members of the village, and this support is vital as they grow up.

Younger children from the SOS Children's Village and the neighbourhood go to the SOS Kindergarten, thus ensuring that children from SOS families are integrated into the community from a young age. As they get older, they attend the SOS primary and secondary schools.