When I thought about orphanages, I imagined small, crowded rooms full of children with three or four caretakers chasing after them. This thought was further initiated in my mind when I traveled to Vietnam two years ago and played with children for a few hours at an orphanage in Nha Trang, Vietnam. I assumed when I found out that I would be interning at SOS Children’s Villages in Zambia that I would be met with similar circumstances like Vietnam where there would be overcrowding and a small staff.
However, I knew that I wanted to push myself out of my limits and try to make a difference during my short time in Lusaka, so I decided to sign up to a intern at a non-profit organization even if the experience could potentially be emotionally taxing.
History of SOS Children's Villages
Built in a dangerous area where murders were commonplace, SOS Children’s Village was established in 1996; however the organization began in 1949 in Austria. The SOS Children’s Villlages operate just like real-world villages where there are homes and a school. Twelve children live together in a house operated by a mom. There are currently 531 SOS Children’s Villages in the world with many of the organizations concentrated in Africa. Once the child turns 15, he or she is then placed in a youth facility where the teenagers live together like a roommate where they are also given a stipend to be used for groceries or whatever others items that can be afforded within the budget.
Mothers are given weekly stipends to be used for groceries or whatever items they wish. Once the children are placed in the youth housing, they are also given a stipend to pay for their food. SOS Children’s Villages is a home for children regardless of their situations—some are orphaned, others may be given to the village for concerns of abusive families. Whatever the situation, children are never turned away.
My experience interning at the village
Spending a day at SOS Children’s Villages can give you such a feeling of reassurance that at times I even forget that the children are orphans, however I am always pulled back into reality. The children are so intrigued with my personal life that will ask my questions such as, “Do you have parents?” Forgetting for a brief second that some of them are orphans, I reply, “Yes, but my mother passed away five years ago.” As soon as I was finished with the sentence, I was bombarded with replies of agreement that some of the mothers of the orphans had died as well.
Unless someone asked if the child was an orphan, I strongly believe that it would be strongly difficult for an outsider to discern if the child was an orphan or not. The children at the village are strong willed, intelligent and kind. Chelsea Moulder, my fellow intern and student at Ohio University, played a game with the girls that focused on self-esteem. Before starting the game, we went around the room asking them what they wanted to be when they were older. Without hesitation, almost every girl replied with either nurse, doctor or teacher.
The children at SOS Childrens Villages are without a doubt the nicest children that I have ever met. I love having opportunities volunteering at a non-profit because it reminds me to always stay grateful for what I have in the United States. Before I left the United States, I had the preconceived notion that most countries operated just like in the United States. I now know after traveling in college that this is not true. As the Christmas season approaches, consider sponsoring a child from SOS Children's Villages in Zambia. Can’t wait to see what all else happens in Zambia!
Bethany Scott is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession, about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism.