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What next (1 Jan 05) for Tsunami Orphans

An early explanation of what process we planned for orphaned children

The immediate trauma of the tsunami and the established wisdom for dealing with children is summarised on our Tsunami trauma for children page

So now there is (some) food and water, what next for Tsunami Orphans?

SOS Children has a great deal of experience in handling children who have lost there parents. We are currently running a family tracing programme in Uganda to reunite child soldiers with their families and have run many similar programmes including post genocide in Rwanda, in Kosovo and elsewhere with refugees.

Our first priority is to determine immediately all possibilities of reunion with the wider family (parents, grandparents and/or other relatives). Having local staff on the ground in most of the Tsunami areas helps a lot with this. Children often only speak local languages and there will be knowledge in the local community about their wider family. Also local staff with local knowledge is the best protection against child traffickers or others who may wish to take children for nasty reasons.

At the same time we continue caring for all the children and helping them cope with the stress and trauma whilst finding out as much as we can. We take children's privacy very seriously and generally do not release e.g. photos or pictures of children in our care until we can establish whether they have a family and whether we will become their guardian. This is a big disadvantage for funding-raising as stories and pictures are very effective at pulling on people's hearts.

What next? If we cannot trace any family where we have too many children to take into our existing communities we set up an SOS emergency village. Children start being grouped into family units and given "mothers" to care for them. We always keep siblings together and we try to keep children we match into a family unit together forever after with the same mother. A family unit might be 10 children, one mother, sleeping four to a room. An SOS community would have 12-15 such units with a few "spare" carers (SOS Aunt's or sometimes retired SOS Mothers) also around to help the children. Then we provide minimum facilities such as a well for the wider community. Some of the SOS communities are grouped around a small farm to provide food for the orphans, or food and clothes are paid for by sponsors. If there is no schooling available in the area we ask our supporters if they are able to help set one up.

If we cannot accommodate the children by extending existing communities we build new ones. We are generally given land and labour is cheap but concrete is expensive and we want to build building which will last. Sometimes construction firms or others offer to sponsor the construction of a village. Once the children have a "proper" SOS family they are available to sponsor. We encourage sponsors to write to their children, visit them and even send them small gifts at Christmas. We think that it helps children to come to terms with their lose if they know people elsewhere care.

Sometimes family turns up later. Sometimes they turn up years later and we tell sponsors the best news they could possibly hear. When one Rwandan girl was reunited with her family after several years the Rotary club who sponsored her sent us a message "How dare you make a room of grown men cry"

We are no longer offering sponsorships for tsunami orphans: the need in Africa and South America is far greater. Please Sponsor a Child elsewhere in the world where the need is greatest.

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Family Strengthening Programmes provide families with the means to stay together. This helps children grow up safely, get educated and stay healthy.