Youngsters meet ‘mothers of the heart’ at the SOS Village

The demands on the staff at the SOS Children’s Village are high. Bringing up children aged from 2 to 16 who have either been abandoned or whose parents were judged to be unsuitable requires careful handling and lots of love. Sia Antonopoulou, one of the 12 house mothers in the village, begins her acquaintance with the children by explaining: «There is the mother who gives birth and the mother who gives her heart. I am one of the mothers who gives her heart.» That distinction is not easy for an abused or neglected child to grasp. Antonopoulou, who has no children of her own, spends 23 days and nights a month in one of the Village houses and has brought up 10 children in nine years. «Sometimes, the children display anger against the Village because they believe it deprives them of their real family. What is worse is that they feel guilty. They wonder whether they caused their parents’ indifference, the abandonment or the negative behavior,» said pediatrician Spyros Stoyiannis. Recently a child was brought to the Children’s Village in Vari, where there are three to four children in every house. The child’s father had been involved in a pornographic distribution network. It is not rare for the children’s parents to be in prison, sometimes for abuse. The most difficult cases are those that involve physical abuse. Victims of beating require special handling and tenderness. Most of the children experience various difficulties in adjusting. When S. arrived at the age of 7, he had severe phobias which he had difficulty overcoming. He wanted the door of the house to be locked as he was afraid the police would come to give him a body search. He believed he was in constant danger. The first meeting is the most difficult, not only for the children but also for the house mother that is to care for them. «When I met the first child we sat and ate together in the presence of his mother and the child called me ‘mum’ without a second thought. I didn’t know what to say. His mother didn’t seem to mind,» Antonopoulou said. Apart from the house mothers, another five teachers and six «aunts» take care of the kids when the mothers take time off. The children are offered creative activities in the art workshops in the Village or sport activities outside it. The older ones also go out for their own entertainment, usually to parties held by classmates outside the Village. «We must always tell the youngsters the truth and of course we must not judge their parents,» said Stoyiannis. Learning difficulties are a common problem. «It is natural for the trauma of separation from the family to have an adverse effect on schooling. That is why the child is in frequent contact with a psychotherapist,» said the director of the Children’s Village, Petros Papadakis. For Papadakis the greatest satisfaction is to watch children grow up and see them realize that the Village is their home.