View of the village in the morning from Children's Village Borovljany…
On 21 April 2006 a concert for children suffering from cancer was held at the children's cancer clinic to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Mother and Child SOS Social Centre in Minsk, Belarus
View of the village in the morning from Children's Village Borovljany near Minsk, Belarus
On 21 April 2006 a concert for children suffering from cancer was held at the children's cancer clinic to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Mother and Child SOS Social Centre in Minsk, Belarus. Children who are staying at the clinic to battle cancer played games, sang songs and read poems before the concert. Various children's groups performed for the children, who really enjoyed the diversion from everyday life at the clinic that the concert offered.
In their speeches, some of the local authorities and friends of the centre remarked that the centre is celebrating its anniversary during the orthodox Easter. "The passage from the Bible 'love others as you love yourself' expresses the very essence of the SOS Social Centre - they care for people," said one of the speakers.
The director of the cancer clinic stressed the importance of the work SOS Social Centre is doing. "They are helping us greatly because children who do not have to stay in the hospital for extended periods can stay in the centre instead. That is a great help for us, the children and their parents. They can enjoy a pleasant atmosphere and concentrate on getting well again. We cannot forget the economic aspect, either; most of the parents could not afford to rent a flat in Minsk. I am very happy we have such great co-operation."
The SOS Social Centre presented its programme for the guests in the clinic's lobby. More than one hundred guests could read information about the organization, discover the different activities held by the centre and view an exhibition of drawings presented to the centre by the children who have stayed there.
Families who are currently staying in the SOS Social Centre participated in the celebration by planting ten trees around the centre.
SOS Mothers drinking tee at Children's Village Hohenau, Paraguay
This is an interview with Felicia Avila Benitez who was born in Paraguay:
"By the time I was twenty or twenty-one I wanted to be independent. I didn't like living at home anymore. I wanted to get out, to work and earn my own money. That was the most important thing for me." Felicia's childhood memories are full of the love and care given by her parents, but also of hard work. Her mother works tirelessly to look after eleven children and also helps her husband in the fields. Her father is strict, especially with the older children and Felicia is the eldest. She wants to continue her education, but the family's economic situation prevents this. Like all her brothers and sisters, she has to work at home on the farm. Today she still enjoys working "with the earth" in the orange plantation or the vegetable garden. By the time she is twenty-four she cannot bear to stay at home any longer. She has to go away, do a different job and earn money of her own. At this time her aunt is an SOS mother in Hohenau. One day Felicia goes to visit her and have a look at the SOS Children's Village. The hardest thing for her to do is leave her parents. But she goes anyway. She learns a lot about herself during her training and through the years realises how important that is, in order to be able to live with the children. Felicia's most difficult experience is her illness. She has breast cancer. She carries this knowledge alone for three or four months until she finally decides to tell the children. It is all so much easier from then on.
The Story of Her Life "That was my dream in those days - to keep on learning."
My family is very simple. The two sides are that of my mother, Paulina Benitez, and that of my father, Isidro Avila, and I love them both. As far back as I can remember my mother and father looked after me. I could always sense their love towards me. It is a wonderful thing for me to have the two of them. We are eleven brothers and sisters: seven daughters and four sons. It was the same for my parents. My mother was one of twelve and my father was one of eleven. And that's how I grew up, amongst my brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins. This huge family was very important to me. It is a family of farmers. From when I was small I always worked with my mother and father.
Then I started school and, because the school was a long way away, I lived with my grandparents for a year. But once I reached the second year I walked to school with my sister and the other children from the neighbourhood. It wasn't always easy to get to school, either because of the heat or when it was very cold in winter. For part of the way we had to go through the jungle and we were scared. I can't even tell you what we were scared of. It wasn't of the wild animals. I think it was just because we were on our own. I can remember the cold winters. When temperatures dropped to freezing and the earth was covered in frost, our father used to let us ride the horse to school. Nearly everyone came on horses. We didn't miss a single day.
I finished primary school after six years when I was thirteen. Because we lived in the country, I had no opportunity to continue my education. I can remember the scene when I asked my father if I could carry on at school. He said it wasn't possible, because there were so many of us, but that we would work together on the farm. And so we worked the land together. We had about twenty cows and horses too. I ploughed the land with the horse-drawn plough, milked the animals and took them to the meadows. Actually, I can do everything on a farm and it makes me happy and contented that I learned how to work the land from my parents.
My mother always told us about God. We would go to church together and pray together at home. The priest came to the village once a month to hold mass. We'd always go there with the horse and cart. We would go to church every Sunday to say a rosary, even if the priest wasn't there. That's how it was in those days.
Actually, our father used to talk to us more than our mother did. I am the eldest and I think I'm my father's favourite daughter. I find it hard to break away from my parents. I know that it isn't good to depend on them so much, but I just have a very strong tie to them.
When I was fourteen or fifteen my parents used to take us to fiestas. I can remember the parish fiesta best. That is a big thing where I come from. First of all you go to mass and then there's a big procession. When I was eighteen we started to go out in the evenings. We went to dances. At first my parents would always come with us, but later they didn't anymore. It would be midnight or one in the morning and my father would say that we had to go home, but I never wanted to go.
By the time I was twenty or twenty-one I wanted to be independent. I didn't like just being at home. I wanted to get out, to work and earn my own money. That was the most important thing for me. I was twenty-four when my aunt, who was an SOS mother here, said to me, "Come with me and I'll show you the village." I can remember all the details. It was an August day and I came to Hohenau all on my own. I went to the SOS Children's Village and looked for my aunt's house. I stayed with her for two days. Then they told me that I could come back in December, but I wanted to stay straight away. I didn't want to leave at all. In the end they sent me a message and I came back on the 7th of November, 1978.
What did your mother give you on your way? What binds the two of you? My mother was incredibly industrious and hard-working. I always thought that eleven children were much too much work for her. As I grew older I admired her for it. She also helped our father on the farm. She had to do the housework and look after the children, but she still managed to be out in the fields or with the animals too. I never once saw them arguing. That's a feeling that sits deep inside of me and makes me happy. They are both such simple and unassuming people but they fought and worked together.
Could you tell us something about your grandmother? When she came to visit us we'd always see her coming from afar and shout, "Grandmother is coming!" The whole family went to visit her with the horse and cart every Sunday. That was lovely. She had a sewing machine and made clothes for all of us, even the boys. Later an aunt used to do that for us. My grandmother had long hair, tied together in a bun at the back. She died when she was forty-two. She was very young. She was an impetuous woman who was happy, funny and had a lot of good ideas. I can remember when I was about eight or nine and was visiting her. She suddenly grabbed my grandfather around the waist and started to dance with him. He was embarrassed, though, and ran out to the fields. That's the way she was.
I would like to ask you something else about your schooldays: what was your favourite subject and did you know what job you wanted to do? We never thought about the future. It was the present that was important. After I'd finished the sixth year I would dearly have liked to stay. That was my dream to keep on learning. But, like my father said, it wasn't possible. I liked dancing best, but the problem was that my father would never let me go to parties. I started to play football in the last year of school. I was a good footballer and even though we played together with the boys, they made me the goalkeeper, because I was already quite tall then.
Is there a woman outside of your family that you admire? I know a lot about the life of Mary. It gives me a sense of security when I think of what she went through with her twelve-year-old son, Jesus. I can't really explain it, but she is a source of strength and inspiration for me. It was my father who said to me, "You always have to ask the Virgin Mary to make your life a good one." That is deep in my heart. Now I know that he said that out of love. I can understand it now, because I'm living it. The picture of the Virgin Mary is very important to me because, for some reason, God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. That is something quite phenomenal and that's how I want to bring up my children.
What are your particular strengths and talents? I think I have the gift to get on well with everybody. If I have a problem with somebody, I will go to them and we'll talk about it. I don't know whether that is a talent or a virtue, but I like that. There are a lot of problems in the SOS Children's Village and it's not always easy. You need to have a lot of understanding and patience. You have to use your head and your common sense, both with your family and also with other people in the village.
What do you like to do in your free time? I like music, reading, visiting people and going for walks with friends. When I drive around I always go and look at things in detail. So far I've only got as far as Asunción, but I would like to travel further and see more new things. I also like to go out to eat or to dance.
Motivation for Her Choice of Profession "I always thought that if there were children like this, there had to be people for these children." My main motive was that I wanted to leave home. I hadn't learned a trade but wanted to earn money and to be somebody. Nothing would have changed on the farm at home. I also wanted to be able to help my family and I still do that today with what I earn. I wanted to work and had the idea that I wanted to work in a household with children. Then I found out that these children didn't have any parents. As soon as I heard the word "orphan", I felt something. This word moved me. That was even before I knew about the SOS Children's Village.
Then I came here for two days. There were an SOS mother, an SOS aunt and four children in the house where I was staying. I was only there for a short time but I saw what a family house with children was like. I went home with this knowledge. That was in August. They got in touch with me in November of the same year. The SOS aunt who had been working in that house had left and the SOS mother had a problem with her back. She had a baby in the house, Andres, and because of this baby she urgently needed help. I started as a helper and did the washing and cleaning and looked after the baby. When the SOS mother went into hospital for an operation I stayed in charge of the house for the whole time she was away. It was almost a year. Then she came back and I was the SOS aunt again.
I wanted to be an SOS mother, though, and to have my own family. I had been here for almost two years and thought that I was ready to take on a family of my own. After a while I was told that five new children were arriving in the village and I gladly accepted. The house that we live in now wasn't quite finished then. We started to clean because the children were supposed to arrive any day and I wanted to have the house ready for them. We went shopping and bought everything we needed: an oven, cutlery and crockery and everything else. I can remember it clearly because I couldn't wait for the children to arrive. They came on the 18th of July. There were two girls and three boys. The youngest girl was nineteen months and the oldest boy was ten years old.
How did your family react to you wanting to be an SOS mother? I didn't tell them at first. I was just employed as an SOS aunt. I made the decision to become an SOS mother myself. When I was told that I would be allowed to take on these five children, I went home and told my parents. They were pleased and happy about it. I didn't have the problem in my family that my parents were against it, but I know it was the case for some of my colleagues. Some of my relatives asked, "Why are you doing it? You're too young. Those are other peoples' children. You should have a family of your own. It's not pleasant if you have to listen to all of that. I always thought that if there were children like this, there had to be people for these children. And I always saw myself as being one of these people. That's why I was sure that everything would be all right and that nothing would go wrong. For as long as God lets me live, I won't have to worry about it. I can sense that.