Most people live in the under-developed rural areas

Children having fun on the roundabout (photo: SOS archives).
The city of Bhimtal is located in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. Tourists come to visit the beautiful countryside near Bhimtal.

Although Uttarakhand's industry and service sectors have grown, the majority of people continue to depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, the land is not very productive, and many are forced to move to urban areas or to other states in order to survive.

Uttarakhand is mostly rural, with towns scattered throughout the mountains. This makes it hard for people to access health care and education. Health care is not always available locally and many cannot afford to travel and pay the medical fees for treatment in urban areas. The shortage of antenatal and postnatal care is particularly worrying as women often fail to reach medical care in time due to the state of roads and transport in the more mountainous areas.

In comparison with other Indian states, Uttarakhand has a high poverty rate and this is particularly acute outside the cities. Families living in rural areas often struggle to care for their children; most of the children in our care come from vulnerable families who live in rural areas. Many children have lost both parents, and in other cases the parents are unable to meet the children's emotional and physical needs.

Human trafficking of women and children is also a problem, especially due to the proximity of the border with Nepal.

Working closely with the community, aiming for self-sufficiency

SOS Children's Village Bhimtal was built on the former property of a Maharaja, around 300 km north of New Delhi, in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. SOS Children's Villages works in close partnership with local agencies and community-based organisations in order to identify families who are in need of support from our family-strengthening programme.

What we do in Bhimtal

Playing on the toy vehicles (photo: SOS archives).
A central part of the work that SOS Children's Villages carries out in Bhimtal is related to 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 and take good care of their children. We aim to raise awareness of hygiene and child rights and give guidance on parenting skills. We provide families with food, educational support, as well as medical 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. When needed, the SOS Kindergarten can also provide day care for young children. Older children receive schooling at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School which offers primary and secondary education to around 750 pupils. Since there were no schools anywhere near this SOS Children's Village, the school was opened in 1986; it is co-educational school and is partly run as a boarding school. The children from SOS families take part in many activities organised locally and those from nearby families also participate in festivals that we celebrate.

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.

In Bhimtal there is also an SOS Vocational Training Centre which prepares prospective teachers for secondary or senior secondary schools in the country.