As the ‘mangalsutra’ (It is a sacred thread of love and goodwill worn by women as a symbol of their marriage) was being put around Vanaja’s neck at her wedding ceremony, I saw there were tears in the eyes of her SOS mother Kamala. These were the tears of joy that express the feeling of pride a mother gets when her child does well in life. At the very same time, I felt a deep sense of fulfilment within myself as well. It was the feeling of accomplishment I gained by the part I played in Vanaja’s successful upbringing.
Several years earlier, when I was introduced to the SOS Children’s Villages by my younger brother, I was a little apprehensive about the entire concept. But after some convincing, I decided to sponsor one of their children. I selected SOS Children’s Village Tambaram which was closest to the city of Chennai where I lived, as I wanted to see for myself how the SOS concept worked. I also wanted to meet my sponsored child on a regular basis.
I used to be a little pessimistic about child care institutions as I assumed that most children who lived there were psychologically harmed. But very soon I realized that SOS Children’s Villages of India was nothing like that.
SOS believes that each child should have a caring parent who would provide security, love, and stability to the child. Girls and boys of different age groups live together under one roof as brothers and sisters, and family ties develop naturally. Each family has its own home, in which the children enjoy a sense of security and belonging. Families stay together forming a village environment and from there children become part of the larger community. The concept of the SOS Family Like Care is based on four principles – the mother, brothers and sisters, the house, and the village.
My sponsored child was Vanaja, a two-year-old girl. Chirpy, smart and with bright eyes, she lived in House Tara, under the loving care of her SOS mother Kamala, who was so devoted to the children under her care that she would put any biological mother to shame. Initially I would visit Vanaja once in six months. But when I realized how well she had bonded with our then seven-year-old daughter Maya, we started visiting her as often as we could. Every time we went I saw that Vanaja was happy and so were all the other children. They all looked content and well cared for. I was so happy that my hard-earned money was not going to be part of another scam.
I was saddened by the fact that other sponsors did not actively attempt to connect with their sponsored children. Whenever Vanaja saw us, her eyes would brighten up and she would show us off with pride, saying, “Ethu yenudaya sponsor” [this is my sponsor]. She would hold Maya’s hand and show her around the village.
Time passed by and Vanaja finished her school. Around this time, I met with a personal tragedy – I lost my only child Maya in an accident. I was totally devastated, and I saw that Vanaja was also deeply affected by this loss. This bonding with Vanaja was very reassuring and gave me the strength to carry on.
By the time Vanaja reached college, her SOS mother Kamla had retired and gone to another town to live with her family. One of the boys Radhakrishnan, who grew up in the same house as Vanaja, had completed his education and got himself a good job. As soon as he heard about his SOS mother Kamla, he went to the town where she was and brought her back to stay with him, as he had been living alone. I could see that the bond which had formed over the years was strong, and real, and that the child, who was now a man, felt that the rightful place for his mother was his house and not anywhere else. The concept of SOS was an absolute success. They wanted children to have a sense of belonging and they had fully succeeded.
Eventually Vanaja completed her graduation and got herself a job. The next step for her was to get married and settle down. Vanaja received several proposals from interested men. She would discuss them with me and I would advise her to wait patiently for the right man. Finally we received a good proposal. Initially the prospective groom’s parents were apprehensive about Vanaja being an orphan. But when they visited the SOS village and met the village director, they saw for themselves the beautiful atmosphere in which the children were growing up. They then went ahead and accepted the wedding proposal.
At Vanaja’s wedding, I was reflecting with great pride on my contribution to Vanaja’s upbringing. The way I see it, SOS Children’s Villages of India provided me the opportunity to play a crucial part in a child’s upbringing, which in turn has given me a priceless sense of accomplishment in my life.
By Preetha, an SOS donor!