Many families live below the poverty line

Learning the alphabet (photo: SOS archives)

The SOS Children's Village is based in the centre of a town called Zarraga, which is about 20 to 25 minutes from the city of Iloilo, in the south-east of Panay Island. The town of Zarraga has a population of around 22,500 people. The nearby city of Iloilo is home to around half a million people and is growing very rapidly due to its strategic position and good infrastructure.

The city of Zarraga does not benefit from the same advantages, and most of the population continues to live off agriculture and fishing. The unemployment rate is very high, and many families live below the nationally-established poverty line. About one in five children of Zarraga suffers from malnutrition, and the lack of access to safe potable water increases the risk of becoming ill.

A growing number of children are losing parental care in the area. The absence of permanent employment means that families cannot meet their needs and those of their children. Not only do children lack nutritious food, but they also fail to receive an education which will give them the chance to break the cycle of poverty as they grow older.

An official request to start working in the area

In 2000, the government of the Philippines asked SOS Children's Villages whether we could start working in the Western Visayas region, due to the area's impoverished conditions and the high number of children who had lost parental care. SOS Children's Villages decided to become active in the area.

What we do in Iloilo

Kindergarten children at play (photo: SOS archives)

SOS Children's Villages provides different kinds of support to the local population. The family strengthening programme provides assistance to families who are at risk of abandoning their children. SOS Children's Villages therefore works with local authorities to assist families and enable them to take good care of their children. We give nutritional, educational and health support. We provide legal advice and also aim to raise awareness of hygiene and child rights and improve people's parenting skills. The SOS Social Centre also administers essential medical treatment.

Children who have lost parental care can find a loving home in one of the 12 SOS families where up to 120 children can be looked after by the SOS mothers. The children grow up with their sisters and brothers in a familial environment full of love, respect and security.

The children can attend the SOS Kindergarten, which has capacity to care for up to 100 children, some of whom come from the neighbouring community. The provision of day care is particularly valued by those parents who attend training or go to work – they know that their children are being cared for by professionals. The SOS Kindergarten in Iloilo also runs evening courses for the local inhabitants, especially for girls and women.

As the children grow up, they can move into our youth programmes, which can care for up to 20 young people. 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 and start looking for work. The young people are encouraged to develop perspectives for their future, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions.