Mrs Saba Faisal is the National Director of SOS Village Children’s Home in Pakistan. Sahar and I have been very excited to meet her ever since I discovered her amazing work. Saba welcomes Sahar and I with traditional Pakistani Chai. A mother of two wonderful boys herself, Saba is composed, calm and confident.
I start by asking Saba to share some of the success stories that she has seen in SOS Village, Lahore. Saba is reluctant to answer, explaining that “every child is a success, no matter which background they are coming from. When they transfer on from our system I feel it is a success for us.”
SOS Village Children’s Home accepts children from newborn to 10 years old and is asked to home children from a myriad of different social backgrounds and situations. In exceptional circumstances, Saba explains, the upper age limit can be extended for the eldest of a group of siblings.
I was surprised to find out that most of the children are categorised as ‘social orphans’, which means a child who has a single parent who cannot look after them. Such a situation is sadly not unknown in the UK, for example where single parents are medically unfit or incarcerated. However, in certain regions Saba tells me that the prevalence of social orphans is increased because it can be difficult for women to bring children from previous marriages into a new family if they re-marry.
Saba reassures me that in these complex situations they do not lose sight of the fact that “it is never the fault of the child”. The trauma of losing one or both of their parent is different when the parents are still alive – but are unable or unwilling be there. The children who experience this are just as deserving of a place where their emotional wounds can be healed. Somewhere to have their confidence and trust in adults re-built.
Another unfortunate trend associated Saba has encountered involves extended family members trying to stop the girls from joining the home while their brothers are allowed.
“It’s probably because they want them to stay at home and do housework”, Saba explains with a frown, “so we put our foot down. Siblings stick together.”
It’s heartening to see that the organisation sticks to its principles even in the face of social pressure.
Saba goes onto explain that separating siblings in these circumstances would be likely to cause further trauma for both the boys and girls. When a group of siblings join the children’s home, then they will be accommodated in the same household with the same SOS Mother. This decision aligns with one of the four principles of SOS Village: Brothers and Sisters. Family is the heart of society, and many measures are taken by the organisation to help each child maintain as many existing family relationships they may have.
I ask Saba how the organisation deals with children who struggle to integrate into their new way of life? Saba answers, “The biggest issue we have is of trust.”
“It is hard for that child to trust anybody because here was their whole life which was just split up, and now the child is entering this new system. He needs that reassurance, comfort, and love which will build that trust.”
This now loops back to the pivotal role of the SOS Mother.
I ask how they ensure that every SOS Mother can provide a consistent and high standard of care, given the myriad of complex situations each child has been through.
The organisation provides training to newly recruited SOS Mothers as per their mandated standard guidelines with an aligned curriculum provided by the International organisation, SOS Kinderorf International. The curriculum is translated into Urdu and modified to consider the cultural and religious backdrop of Pakistan. The training is vital in ensuring that each SOS Mother is prepared for the pivotal role where they make or break a child’s future development. The training is rigorous and informative, and it is just the start of the continual professional development the SOS Mothers undergo. Training is also provided by external guest speakers on issues including psychology, child protection and safeguarding.
We begin to discuss the other volunteers that drop into the homes and Saba begins to tell me about the mentoring schemes and annual reunions where former residents return to see their siblings; sometimes bringing families of their own. In the long term these interactions can help the children to develop a new sense of trust in adults. It also shows the children what lies ahead for them once they leave the home. The reunions and mentors bring them hope.
As the interview is coming to a close I ask Saba “What is the ultimate goal that SOS Village hopes to achieve for every child?”
Saba answers, “The Ultimate goal of every mother would be to see their child or children grow up to be wholesome, kind-hearted and independent.”
Walking around the home I am reassured that any child from the SOS Village who one day becomes a parent will be equipped to raise their children because of the tireless and loving work of the SOS Mothers, and of Saba. I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and optimism for the future.