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A Tribute to SOS Mothers This Women’s Day

“There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood,” says Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

For more than 30 years the SOS Children’s Villages (SOS CV) have been caring for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children who have lost or are at risk or losing parental care within South Africa.  And at the centre of this highly successful international family-based care organisation, are the SOS Children’s Villages mothers – women who devote their lives to caring for and raising children whose own biological mothers are unable to do so – either as a result of extreme poverty, terminal illness, death, abuse or neglect.

Their task is never easy.  At SOS Children’s Villages, the mother has up to ten children of all ages under her care in a family home.  These children invariably come with immense emotional baggage, trust and social issues.  For the mother, the physical care and attention is by far a much smaller task than the massive challenge of rebuilding the child’s trust and establishing loving relationships with a child who in all likelihood, has lived through more trauma and heartbreak than we can ever fathom.

And yet despite these challenges, mothers devote their time, energy and love to heal broken hearts and the painful wounds of our country’s most vulnerable citizens.  At the end of it all, she is responsible for raising well-rounded children, in a loving home environment, providing for their emotional and physical needs, seeing to their education and social welfare, to create adults that can go forth in the world with confidence and self-sufficiency.  There are countless stories of children who go on to live fulfilling lives both personally and professionally and start their own loving families – thanks to the devotion and love of their SOS Children’s Villages mother.

As we celebrate Women’s Day in South Africa, we pay tribute to mothers of a different kind, whose role is so pivotal in rebuilding broken lives and raising orphaned children in loving homes and environments,” says Stephen Miller, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages South Africa. “The mothers form the backbone of what SOS Children’s Villages does. They have the enormous task of motivating, encouraging, loving and supporting children that come from diverse backgrounds to believe that anything is possible. It is not easy to be an SOS Children’s Villages mother and this Women’s Day we salute their incredible work.” 

The role of mothers in the SOS

Although the role of the mother in the SOS Children’s Villages closely tracks the role of a biological mother in any other household, the circumstances are very different. Each mother cares for between eight and ten children at a time from very diverse and often troubled backgrounds.  The mother provides guidance for the children in terms of being a constant support for them and teaching them as a mother would do her own children. Household rules, chores, and discipline are part of the normalities. The mothers are encouraged to involve the children in family decisions.  Her role in the house includes being a mother, best friend, comforter, child protector, teacher and counsellor. Her work never stops. In order to give the children the most normal family life possible, the mother needs to ensure that the normality in the house is maintained.

Views from an SOS mother

Sarah has been a mother at the Ennerdale SOS Children’s Village for 15 years.  “It’s not a job to me. I love being a mother to my SOS children and love them as my own.  This was a calling for me and the best decision I could have made,” explains Sarah.
“Granted there are ups and downs and it certainly is not without its challenges – but I believe this just makes us stronger. When difficult times come and I feel as if I just can’t go on, I think about the children and how much we mean to each other.  I love the children as my own and today I can say that the children I have raised may not be mine in a biological sense, but they are mine in every other respect. 

“As a SOS Children’s Villages mothers we have a great support system. The programme director, social workers, the other mothers in the village and the retired mothers all support us when we need it.  It’s a role that comes with enormous responsibilities, but it’s never short of its rewards. I was extremely proud when one of my children asked me to be a witness at her wedding, and sometime later told me I was to become a grandmother.  It was one of the best moments of my life when I held my ‘grandchild’ for the first time.

“My children care for me as much as I care for them. The ones that are now grown and out of the village house regularly contact me to find out how I am doing.  Come memorable days like these, I get thoroughly spoilt with gifts and visits from my children who have since left the home.  Being an SOS Children’s Villages mother has changed my life and my perspective - I don’t look back and I definitely don’t regret any of the sacrifices I made.  It has been a privilege to be part of the children’s lives and putting hope back into what could have been a hopeless situation,” says Sarah.

Stephen Miller, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages South Africa concludes:  “Words cannot express the gratitude for all the work of our mothers. You are very important to us and I would like to thank all the mothers for their hard work, the love they give to their children and for the role they play in raising well-adjusted adults.  You are the ones that shape the children, encourage and support them. We see the difference that you make on a daily basis. Without you, the SOS Children’s Villages would not be able to fulfil its mandate of providing every child with a loving home.  I wish you a very happy and blessed Women’s Day.”