A view from the SOS Children's Village Almaty, Kazakhstan
This is an interview with SOS mother Elena from Kazakhstan:
A view from the SOS Children's Village Almaty, Kazakhstan:
Elena Serjegina has been working as an SOS mother at SOS Children's Village Almaty in Kazakhstan for 15 years. She is a patient lady who doesn't bear a grudge and simply loves children. In this interview, she talks about her own motherhood her wishes for other mothers.
How many children are you looking after at the moment?
I've got seven children here, four boys and three girls. All of the children have emotional problems, as the feeling of abandonment still lingers in their hearts.
How would you describe your task as an SOS mother?
An SOS mother's main task is to awaken the children's joy in learning and to show them the right path. Even if this family is an artificial one, the children need to develop healthy roots within it. Only then will the tree grow beautiful leaves and be strong. The children have to understand that life is a gift. You have to teach them to see the bright and happy side of life. They have to be able to forget all the negative experiences they have had and all the suffering they have gone through. It is important to teach the children that they have to love others and themselves and that they have to be able to protect themselves. It is also important to make them realise that they are valuable members of society.
What was the most special and beautiful moment you ever experienced as an SOS mother?
The tradition appeared in our family - when we celebrate the New Year, seeing off the outgoing year, we review our achievements, dreams and make wishes for the future. At last, one day a few years ago, the children started talking about the most important and meaningful event each of the members of our family has experienced. In the beginning, the voices sounded gingerly and then they were more and more confident telling that we all have a family, Mum loves her children and the children love each other and Mum and that it is great and wonderful that there are people with big hearts, filled with love which helped to build our house and our family. Then there followed words of thankfulness and love, addressed to all people of the Earth with the wishes emanating from the children's carefree hearts.
I stood motionless, being afraid of spoiling the beauty of the moment. Then the clock struck midnight; we went out and lit the candles and Bengal fires. The sky was surprisingly clear and blank. The salute fires were taking off, and we heard cheerful New Year's well-wishes. The moon and stars were shining brightly. The children asked me: "Is our celebration watched on the stars? Do the star-kids celebrate on New Year's Eve?"
I suggested sharing our celebration to the children and congratulate everybody we meet. At that moment the children, lifting the candles up to the sky, uttered the New Year's wishes of love and happiness dedicated to all people living on the moon and stars and on our planet. They wished to have a big family, many children, and happy and joyful days. Then we sledged, played with snow, rejoicing at being together, and laughed a lot given the overwhelming feeling of happiness.
That night I understood that we all felt that we not only belonged to one house; our hearts had also "joined" in, and we were feeling like one family. I was also very happy to find out that the children had learned to be grateful, happy and cheerful, and that they got a feeling of unity of all people in the world; consequently, they would call themselves "star-kids".
What special thing do you think you can give the children to help them on their way?
First of all, that they are able to see both themselves and their environment in a positive light. Also to be able to solve any conflict situations peacefully; that they are able to love and be loved. I try to make sure that I teach the children to look after themselves and others and to care cheerfully for the elderly and the young.
What do you wish for the girls and the boys? I'm trying to motivate them to find careers that will suit their abilities and interests. I also try to make sure that they receive a musical education. They should be able to develop their creative skills so that they can turn their hobbies into professions. I would like to be able to teach them everything I know. I would like them to become independent and not to demand anything from society. They should be able to create things using their own strengths.
SOS Mother carrying a baby on her shoulders from Children's Village Kigali, Rwanda
This is an interview with Marie Théogène Umuteteli, Born, 25.10.1961, Rwanda:
"I was so sad that I had been widowed without having had any children with my husband. That's why I'm so happy to look after these children now."
Marie's husband used to work for SOS Children's Villages and so she sees her work as an SOS mother as a continuation of his work. Even though she is desperately sad at the loss of her husband, she is also happy that her wish to have children has been fulfilled in this way. When you speak to people in Rwanda you will be confronted with the genocide of 1994. It is ever-present. Everybody lost friends and relatives and some families were entirely obliterated. Within minutes of talking to Marie the genocide comes up. She not only lost her husband, but many of her relatives also died in the war. She was herself in a refugee camp and all the children in her SOS family experienced appalling sights. One of her girls, Margaret, has a false leg. It is hardly surprising that Marie's message to the world is an emotional appeal for peace.
The Story of Her Life "And then came the genocide." My name is Marie-Thèogène and I am forty-one years old. First I went to primary school and then I did three years of secondary school. Afterwards I went to work as a housekeeper for white people. I got married in 1986. My husband worked here in the SOS Children's Village Kigali. He was a teacher and a youth educator. For the first five years of our marriage we remained childless. And then came the genocide, which was also responsible for my husband's death. I have a photograph of him in my bedroom and I always carry another in my handbag. I escaped to Byumba after the genocide.
The SOS Children's Village co-workers there asked me if I wanted to work for them, as they had lost so many of their SOS mothers in the war. I was overjoyed, because my husband had worked for SOS Children's Villages for more than fourteen years. He was godfather to some of the children and was like a second father to them. I was so sad that I had been widowed without having had any children by my husband. After his death there was nothing of him here anymore. That's why I'm even happier that I'm allowed to look after these children now, who were after all, his children too. It was very crowded after the war, because there were so many children who needed care. Then I discovered that my parents were still alive. We'd lost touch with each other in the chaos of the war. I wanted to be near them and so I asked if I could be transferred to Kigali. My parents are almost eighty years old. I only have one sister left. All my other brothers and sisters were killed in the war.
Is there somebody in your family to whom you are particularly close? Yes, my younger sister. She's a widow too. Her husband died last year. We often visit one another. My children also visit her because she's like an aunt to them. If my sister comes to visit and I'm not here, the children give her something to eat and drink, just as you would normally if your aunt came to visit. My father also comes to visit and is happy that I have got children. He's always asking for photos of "his" grandchildren. When I first started working here I asked my father, "Why don't you come to visit us and meet my children?" So then he came to visit and brought milk for the children. It is our custom to bring milk for a new mother to give to her new-born child.