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  Issue 38  Reportage

The first SOS-Children Village in Macedonia

A space filled with lot of self-confidence and trust

Katerina Bogoeva

Entering the so far only SOS-Children village in Macedonia speaks about the specific connection of the worlds of the children and adults in one, in the name of the present and the future. Here special respect is given to the past of each of the members of the families, of the inhabitants of the yellow houses. The village is small, as in the cartoon about the Smurfs, with an area of only 11,500 square metres, situated in the Skopje suburb Cento, opposite the Primary School “Dane Crapcev”.
As in other villages, the surrounding is full of greenery, fields and lawns, with neighbours that visit them, with a small football ground on which the children from the 12 houses play, but also their friends from the surrounding houses and buildings, in other form and colour. There are swings, a playground equipped with toys – that’s the atmosphere in which 37 children spend their childhood, until they  “stand on their feet” and prepare for the challenges of life. The adult inhabitants look after them: SOS-mothers, SOS-aunts, expert and technical staff. Today in the village that is registered as a private institution for social protection and is part of the system for this kind of protection in the country, there are 7 families, and its technical capacities allow 84 children to be situated in it in the future. With its own working principles, it has been functioning since May 2002, and it was founded two years before, by the Association of Citizens SOS-Children village, that is an equal member, together with 442 active villages from 131 countries in the world, of the home organization SOS-Kinderdorf International (Austrian non-governmental, private organization, founded in 1949). With its financial support, SOS-Children village is working in Macedonia even today.

“From time to time we get small donations from different parts of the country, but we still think that it’s early for a big campaign that will provide a financial support for survival by the Macedonian citizens” – says Katerina Ilievska, representative of SOS-Kinderdorf, who is part of the expert team that consists of a psychologist, a pedagogue and a sociologist, and which gets help from external expert people, if necessary.

The acceptance of children whose parents cannot look after them because of various reasons, or who don’t have biological parents, is done through the centres for social help, which play the role of guardians. Through them (if it’s possible), the contact between the children and the biological parents and cousins is provided. That communication was emphasized by the expert team of the Children village, considering it especially necessary.

The existence of the village opened two new jobs – SOS-mother and SOS-aunt. The mother lives with the children in the village, creating the family that consists of brothers and sisters, taking care of its functioning, the housework, the health, the upbringing of the children, giving them the necessary love and stability. In order to get that status, the mothers go through trainings and tests before that, after which they get employed in the village and work according to the principles that are respected in all children villages in the world. They respect the family history, the cultural links and religion of every child. They are replaced by the SOS-aunts when they have days off work, when they are on holiday and in different essential situations.

Children, mothers and from time to time aunts from different ethnical background live together in the families, but it’s important to state that biological brothers and sisters are not separated. The children, in whose homes we entered and who we met in the village, wanted to take photos, to talk with us and to show us what kind of toys they have, what are the beds where they sleep like, what kind of music they listen to, but also what kinds of presents they get for their birthdays. The Children village, according to its rules, will look after them until they become “their own people”, until they achieve a certain psychophysical, educational readiness to find a job according to the abilities and expenses for maintenance. They will stay in the family houses until they are 14-15 years old, and then it’s foreseen that they will go in nearby flats, where 8 to 12 youngsters will live together under the supervision of pedagogues and psychologists.

“In Macedonia the need for that kind of flats will appear after 3-4 years when the children grow up, and the aim of that kind of accommodation is preparation and development of the experiences gained in the families. They will be helped further on by financing the studies and through extended help for looking for a job, and the help might last until 26-27, depending on the country and the child”-emphasizes Katerina Ilievska.

The social worker Marko Janev is satisfied with the relationship of the neighbours and the families and states that the children are well accepted, integrated with the children from the neighbourhood, with whom they play, practise football, go to taekwondo classes. Asked for their mutual communicating with regard to ethnic background, he says:

“The children are not identified according to their ethnic background, but because they live in the Children village. So far we haven’t had a need for a sensibility of this kind. Maybe it sounds strange, but here you can’t feel a difference among the children on the issue of ethnic background, neither with the children nor the mothers. From the 7 SOS-mothers, one is Albanian, and two are Bosnian. We don’t have obstacles in the language communication between the children and the adults who most of the time speak Macedonian, and in the family where the mother is Albanian they speak in Albanian because the children are Albanian as well. In the “mixed” families they celebrate both the Muslim and Christian holidays and they insist on positive mutual relations. We are working according to the UN conventions for protecting the child and respecting the different cultures, religions, the ethnic background.

The expert team is satisfied with the current communication with the state structures and the shown interest of a few firms and private people for donors. The local donations are part of the budget and represent proper savings for the families. Last year in the budget the donations and the means got by selling New Year cards participated with 10% which is considered a relatively good coverage with donations.

The experts expect the village to fill with the foreseen 84 children in the 12 family houses gradually, but they don’t predict when, because the procedure for acceptance of children is not simple. The number of new children in the families varies from year to year. Last year 33 children were accepted, and this year 4, but the expert team thinks that the dynamics for acceptance is normal for Macedonian conditions. They mention that in Bosnia and Herzegovina the filling was very quick, but also that it is very slow in countries where the social care is much more developed. In the SOS-Children village children with psychophysical obstacles are taken care of because of the flow of education and the form of taking care that takes place there.

-         The children are not identified according to their ethnic background, but because they live in the Children village – Marko Janev, sociologist.

-         They give books to the library in the village very often. But still there is a need of reading lists, workbooks, prose, poetry for children, music cassettes and CDs, films, everything that is necessary for the functioning of one family.

-         Natasha Georgieva, SOS-mother who is waiting for the first members of her family: “Love for children and filling my own emptiness was my motive to live and work here.”

-         Merima Avdovik, SOS-mother: “This is not a job, but life. You can’t be an SOS-mother if you don’t get used to everything here. Here children learn lots of things, they gain hygienic habits, how to work with money, to communicate with each other and the surrounding citizens, to go to the market.”

-         The birthday of all SOS-Children villages is on 23rd June. On that day Herman Gmainer was born, the man who in 1949 in Imst, Austria, founded the first SOS-Children village. Today in 439 villages throughout the world live over 43,000 children.

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