SOS mother being lost in a prayer with a child…
Subhashini Aadinarayanamurthi Born 11.10.1963, India
SOS mother being lost in a prayer with a child an her lap - Children's Village Visakhapatnam, India
This is an extract of an interview with the SOS Mother Subhashini Aadinarayanamurthi who was born in 1963 in India:
How would you describe your work?
I would say that the SOS mother is the soul of the SOS Children's Village. She cares for between nine and twelve children, lives together with them in their own house, and she decides herself, what to plant in the garden. She cooks for the children, buys clothes and gets them ready for school, just like any other mother or father would. Other families have a father, but here the children have an uncle, the village director, who takes on this role. He's responsible for their education and, amongst other things, he tries to find work for them. Other male co-workers also take on a fatherly role. Sometimes people from outside come to visit. Some of them would love to stay here to see how we, as single women, cope with looking after ten children, feeding them and doing all the housework.
A question about the training of SOS mothers: what subject do you think helped you the most?
Three times a week we had "child development" and I liked that very much. Sunita explained to us how to treat slow and hyperactive children. I have one daughter who studies a lot, but can't remember much. She is interested in music and handicrafts, though. During the training I learned that you shouldn't always tell slow children off, but should rather try to find out what other qualities they have. I try to do that with this girl. The intelligent children find a lot of things easy and get on well, but the other children need a lot more support. We have had one ten-day refresher course since we did our original training. We would like to have a refresher course every two years, though.
How much contact do you have with the community surrounding the SOS Children's Village?
As far as the community is concerned, the only contact I really have is when I occasionally go to the bank or go to the market shopping. We take part in the prayer gatherings during religious festivals, and I visit the schools once a month to talk to the teachers. Naturally, I visit my family and they visit me too.
What have been your best experiences and what have been the hardest since you've been working in the SOS Children's Village?
I was very happy this year, because four of my children won prizes: my daughter, Sindhuja, won a prize in a competition about the health of babies. Satish and Madhuri came second in the dance competition out of twenty-two pairs, and Kamalakar won a prize for studying. If all my children were so successful, that would be wonderful. I worried a lot about one of my sons. He was supposed to go to extra lessons, but never turned up. I didn't know anything about it, but the village director found out. I felt terrible when he told me.
Why do they behave like that?
These children have so many opportunities and they still do things like that. Was that harder for you than the reunification of the children we talked about this morning? Those children, who no longer live with me, have their own parents who are now responsible for them. But this was about my son who lives in my house. That's why I have to worry about his future and show him how to behave. I will not tell him off, because he's my child, but I have to show him the way to be successful. We stand by the children in all that they do.
The SOS mothers also receive a lot of support. What do you wish for your future?
I would like to be sure that all my children have jobs and are earning money before I retire. I would like to have my own room somewhere where my children can come and visit me.
A wide choice of flowers Nairobi, Kenya
"As a young boy, I had dreams to do many things, to travel far and to be somebody some day," says James Wabara. He has certainly done that. Brought up in SOS Children's Village Nairobi, James has lived in Germany and England but has now returned to his roots in Nairobi where he is the village director of the very same village that he has always called home.
Going back to your roots
James Wabara arrived, with his sisters, at SOS Children's Village Nairobi as a small boy in 1974. As one of the first children in the new Nairobi village James joined a group of young people who came under the influence of the first village director, Tony Hernegger, who shaped the village into what it is today. Hernegger, says James, "was quality conscious about everything" and he left his mark on a whole group of children, now adults, who look at their work through his critical eyes.
James' upbringing, although punctuated by three SOS mothers (the last one who came in 1979 is still in the village) was, in his own words, 'enriching', and he remembers a fairly contented childhood balanced by play, work and studies. An academic boy, James went on to university in Nairobi majoring in international business. Until 1999 he worked in Nairobi when he won a German government sponsored scholarship for advanced intensive training in international marketing. James was one of 18 graduates worldwide who were invited to participate. On this course he learnt to understand European business systems and to administrate systems, resources and people, something that has helped him a lot in his work as village director. He also made lasting contacts with colleagues worldwide.
The German experience had lasting consequences
"I left Nairobi on 1 November, 1999", James relates. "My first stop was Frankfurt, where I was met by a representative of the Carl Duisburg Gesellschaft, the organisation that would manage my stay and training. He drove me hundreds of kilometres to Saarbrücken in southern Germany where I was to spend the next month being introduced to the German language and being orientated to the German way of life."
James' next stop was Dortmund and Cologne in the western part of Germany, where he completed his language classes before moving on to Witten and the serious training in international marketing.
For the next three months James studied intensively before spending another four months on practical assignments with local companies. "I was very lucky again", he remembers, "when the academy secured an attachment for me with 3M Deutschland Gmbh. Those with a keen eye for brands might recall the 3M brand on a variety of stationery. Here I had an opportunity to learn both the business and the working culture in a big multinational."
After the attachment all the students converged in Cologne for the final phase of the programme although they lived in Bonn, from where they commuted daily until final graduation on 26 October 2000.
Highlights of James' stay in Germany, he remembers, were the visits to various places including the international trade expo held in Hanover, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Dortmund, the House of History in Bonn, the Cologne dome and the Octoberfest in Munich. "In Munich we also visited the BMW headquarters and the Olympic village. But the most memorable moments for me will always remain the serene walks I took along the banks of the River Rhine ", he recalls.
The knowledge and experience gained in Germany has played a big role in James' life, both professional and personal. "Apart from the many contacts and friends I made", he explains, "I am now able to use what I learnt to be better at whatever I do and to be more understanding and tolerant of other people (my class had people from 17 nationalities) To be able to use all this rich experience to serve the children as village director and 'father' at SOS Children's Village Nairobi is truly a blessing for me".
Moving on to gain more knowledge
Like any ambitious professional James had a plan for his life which included spending time abroad before returning to Kenya. His goal was to gain experience and to take skills and knowledge back to his country.
Thus, James followed his year in Germany with five years in the UK working for a local council in north London as a librarian. He returned to Kenya in 2005 with more confidence and decided to work as a consultant, helping an old friend (also from the village) with his business. It was only when he saw the advertisement for the village director in the newspaper that James realised where his calling lay.
James got the job, although it wasn't a foregone conclusion. His advantage lay in the fact that he had grown up in an SOS Children's Village and knew instinctively what was expected of him. "There was concern about education standards and discipline", he says, "and I concentrated on these issues in my interview. I want to improve order in youth facilities and improve educational standards. Having gone through the system I can empathise with kids and my record speaks for itself. I know that I have spent my time productively".
Full integration is his goal As village director James' long term goal is to achieve 100% success with the integration of the children into the outside world, with each child taking the route most suited to him or her. He has already shared this goal with his co-workers and the SOS mothers. He admits it is a tall order, but he is willing to take up the challenge. On the education front James is sensitising the children to the opportunities available within the 'SOS system', such as the Ghana international college. "I think my call is being taken up", he asserts.
And running the village itself? "The SOS Children's Village is challenging" James maintains. But he has been accepted quickly and he feels that the goodwill is there to support him. "The children don't expect favours just because I was an SOS child", he admits, adding that he is strong on discipline.
James has already introduced several innovations since starting his work as village director in September 2006, including a pilot project which aims to give the youth a stake in their own success and the introduction of a children's council. Both projects are based on a participatory approach. In the end, what it comes down to, James emphasises, is the best interest of the child.
Certain people had great influences on his life James can count several significant influences in his life, the greatest, he says without hesitation, being SOS Children's Villages founder, Hermann Gmeiner. James remembers him from his visits to the village: "Whenever he came to the village he was interested in consulting the children....He had that aspect of giving. It's what keeps me going. I think Kenya was also one of his favourite places. He was always happy here."
James' SOS mother, Mama Kamau, comes a close second. She taught him the value of patience and unconditional love. "She made us belong", he says. "She always had a family time when she told us stories and played with us. Those were our most enjoyable times." For her part, Mama Kamau remembers James as a polite and obedient child who was always clean and conscious of his appearance.
James also remembers his maternal grandmother who took care of him and his sisters until they were admitted to the village. She has played a big role in who I am today", he says. "She encouraged my sisters and I to be the best we could, to work hard so that we would not return to the destitution we had faced prior to coming to SOS Children's Village. She faithfully visited us every year as long as she had the strength."
And of course, his greatest influence in running the village is his old mentor Tony Hernegger. "Most of my work is based on what I learnt from him", he adds. Outreach is a real need Things have changed in SOS Children's Villages since James grew up in Nairobi, and, according to him, much for the better. "The outreach is excellent", he asserts, "and the family strengthening programmes are one of the best developments. There is such a need especially with HIV /AIDS leaving so many orphans", he adds. "In the village our capacity is restricted but the social and medical centres can reach more and more people. They are doing an excellent job."
And how does Mama Kamau feel about having her son and his wife living back in the village? "It is God's blessing", she said. "I respect him as my boss and as my child. I thank the Lord for this job".
All in all, James has no regrets about returning to his roots and concludes: "I like what I am doing. If I can see it through and make the best of opportunities then I will have succeeded. It's challenging and I won't give up."