Children often have to drop out of school to contribute to the family income

SOS siblings with their SOS mother (photo: SOS archives).
SOS Children's Village Nagapattinam is located in a residential area of the city. Nagapattinam is a city of around 92,500 inhabitants in the province of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Traditionally the area has lived off agriculture and fishing. The December 2004 tsunami badly affected the lives of many in their area, destroying not only their homes but also their boats and nets and thus their way of making a living. Thanks to the tsunami recovery programme, of which SOS Children's Villages was a part, the local population has slowly been able to rebuild its lives.

More recently, in December 2011, the area was hit by Cyclone Thane which destroyed many homes and roads in the area. Many of the families from our family strengthening programme were affected as their homes were destroyed. Once again, SOS Children's Village was involved in reconstructing homes and livelihoods.

However, people continue to face many hardships. The majority of vulnerable people live in slums with no access to the most basic services such as waste collection, safe drinking water and sanitation and they also lack other services such as health clinics and schools.

Many of the urban poor struggle to scrape together a living. The physical and emotional development of children growing up in these circumstances suffers. Children who join our programmes are often malnourished and in need of medical treatment. The lives of girls and women are particularly difficult, as they continue to be discriminated against. Girls from poorer families are less likely to attend school and their health needs are not always attended to. The significant difference in literacy rates bears testimony to the inequality that women experience: while 90.4 per cent of men are literate, the figure drops to 67.9 per cent for women.

Responding to the local needs after a natural disaster

SOS Children's Villages started working in the area after the tsunami in 2004. Once it became clear that many children had lost parental care, the local authorities asked us to establish a permanent programme which would include family-based care where the children could recover from their traumatic experiences.

What we do in Nagapattinam

Learning a new skill at the SOS Social Centre (photo: SOS archives).
A central part of the work that SOS Children's Villages carries out in Nagapattinam is related to supporting socially and economically excluded children and families, especially single mothers. Our SOS Social Centre runs a family strengthening programme which offers a comprehensive package of services to enable families to stay together and take good care of their children. In addition to providing day care, we aim to raise awareness of hygiene and children's 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. People we have been working with are now able to make a living through tailoring, making handicrafts and brick and chalk-making.

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 attend the local kindergartens and schools, along with children from neighbouring families and are thus integrated into the community. The children take part in many activities organised locally and the children from nearby families also participate in festivals that we organise.