Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 10: This big, small world

I was invited to the annual SOS Children's Village Conference in Oslo this weekend (I'll get into details of the organization later). I was an intern at the organization in Bosnia and have becoming involved as a volunteer since arriving in Bergen. At the conference, there were country representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia. Many of them did presentations on their in country projects and each one brought back a special memory from my past.

The very first presentation was about a group of girls who went to Africa and taught kids in one of the SOS villages to dance. The pictures and videos made me cry, reminding me of the three little boys I met in Swaziland in 2007. These three boys were orphaned, living in a safe house that was soon to be closed. We tried our hardest to find a long term solution for the boys, but left without a solid plan in place and lost track of where the boys ended up after leaving the safehouse. Throughout my post graduate education and professional career, these three boys were my inspiration for everything I did. I found a passion in working with orphans and the many children who are left without parents. These three boys have always and will always have a special place in my heart and I often wonder where they are and how they are. Are they in an orphanage, with a family? Have they gone to school? Are they happy? Are they safe?

Here is me (and my crazy blonde hair) with the boys in 2007.

Next was a presentation about Bosnia and Herzegovina. The woman giving the presentation was the same woman I worked with during my internship in 2008 at SOS in Sarajevo. The slides showing pictures of Sarajevo made me homesick for the food, the people, the culture. Hearing her speak about the challenges in their countries brought back memories of the mothers, children and families I worked with during my time in Sarajevo. I could see their faces clearly in my mind. I might as well have been looking through a photo album in my head. She spoke about the conflicts in Bosnia and the continuing tension among the different ethnic groups living there. There are children going to the same school who don't speak a single word to each other. They use different classrooms, bathrooms, different front doors.

Here is the reunited group from Bosnia (and one friend from Africa)

SOS Superbus!! I worked with this bus while I was living in Sarajevo.

There were so many other moments that brought back memories that made me homesick for my past experiences. There was a video about Vietnam that reminded me of my travels in South East Asia and my life living in Thailand. Someone showed pictures of African kids that reminded me of specific children I had helped bring home to the United States to an adoptive family. One presentation commented on kids playing soccer without shoes which reminded me of the school in Swaziland. It was a bizarre feeling. I think the experiences that have meant the most to me have been buried in the movement of my current life. The small triggers that reminded me of these experiences brought back so many emotions. It reminded me of my love in working with children around the world, traveling to different countries and falling in love with the people, food, and culture everywhere. While they were speaking in Norwegian, I found myself daydreaming about how I could get back to Swaziland, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, India....somewhere new to me???

Now, my favorite story!

Since I do not speak or understand fluent Norwegian, I was in the English speaking group using a translator. Most of these people were from Africa and I quickly became friends with this group of people, two of whom were from Swaziland. We had lunch one day and I decided to ask about the boys and care givers I had met in Swaziland 5 years ago. I showed her a picture from my phone and she laughed, said their names and said "Oh, yes, I know them very well. They will be so happy to hear I've met you". I asked about the boys and she told me she would be able to find them and contact me with information about how they are. I couldn't believe how amazing it was that we had met, and that she knew the people who had changed my life! Everyone plays the name game, "Oh, you're from Colorado, well then you must know so and so". It is rare you find a common connection. So, how likely is it that a girl from the US, and other from Swaziland meet up in Oslo and find that they have mutual friends???

Now, I have to mention SOS Children's Villages. What is this organization and what does it do? They are worldwide and help children in many different countries (132) around the world. Their vision is that every child grows up in a family, with love, respect and security. SOS builds villages in countries where there is a need. A SOS mother is just that, a mother. SOS mothers live in the village and have children they raise, children who have been orphaned or can no longer live with their biological families. Children grow up with siblings, with a mother and a community, in their home country. SOS is not an orphanage, as each child is raised in a home, with one mother and siblings. Very few SOS Villages will place children for adoption. Outside of the children's homes, SOS provides support in many other areas. Most of the SOS Villages have a Family Strengthening Program. This program goes into the community to work with families who are at risk. They prevent children from becoming orphaned by working with the family, educating them and providing them with the support they need to raise a family and be a successful member of their community. In one presentation this weekend, a representative said "Sometimes people ask why the numbers of children being helped by SOS are not bigger. Save the Children and Unicef help so many children every year. Well, the answer is that SOS does not provide lunch to children, we provide a life". I think this is stated perfectly.

Here is one SOS Family. The mother spoke to us and told us about her 10 children.

Here is one of many stories about how SOS has helped children around the world.

I worked at an adoption agency for two years. I helped bring over 30 orphaned children to loving families in the United States. I was constantly fighting with Unicef. They are openly against international adoption and believes all children should stay in their home countries, no matter what. I agree that staying in their country is the best option for the children, and that adoption should be their last option. If there were enough organizations to help support kids in their country, I would see their argument. But, because there are not enough places in each country for the orphaned children, adoption must be one option. Even with adoption (a very, very, very small percentage of children are able to be adopted), there are many left without a family or a place to live. So, while I have helped 30 children find their forever families and I am happy for that, there are so many more to advocate for. I hope you will remember SOS, learn about it, and tell others. Because, if we can help organizations like this grow bigger and stronger, there will be less and less orphans in the world. And I know everyone agrees that a world with less orphaned and abandoned children is a better world.

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