SOS Children's Village Antsirabe In Madagascar’s central highlands, the rural population lives without access to basic infrastructure and social services. Not only can these conditions be hazardous to children’s health, it can also deprive them of their education and thus of the opportunities they deserve in life. Child labour continues to jeopardise children’s healthy development Children playing at the SOS Kindergarten (photo: SOS archives) Antsirabe is located in the central highlands of Madagascar and has a population of over 200,000. The city was chosen as the site for the third SOS Children’s Village due to the rural exodus that was taking place in the region, meaning an increase in the number of people living without basic infrastructure in precarious conditions on the outskirts of the city. We also hoped that young people from SOS families would be able to find work in the city once they had completed their education. Antsirabe experienced steady economic growth, mainly thanks to its industry including food, beverages and textile factories. However, the political crisis that began in 2009 led to an economic downturn and many people lost their jobs. In addition, in 2009 Madagascar lost its eligibility to be part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which also had a detrimental effect on the economy of Antsirabe. In the surrounding rural areas, people make a living in agriculture, mainly in the cultivation of rice. Rural poverty levels are still very high in the region and the majority of households here do not have running water in their homes. This means that women, and in many cases young girls, have to walk to a shared well and carry buckets of water home. Child labour continues to be a problem in the region: in the city, children work as domestic servants and in trade. In rural areas, they care for livestock and perform agricultural tasks. Child prostitution also exists. The main reason why children have to work is the poverty of many families. Often, parents feel they have no choice but to rely on their children’s contribution to the household income. Family strengthening – for holistic and sustainable progress in the community SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Antsirabe in 2003. In recent years, we have continuously expanded our family strengthening programme in the region so as to reach as many struggling families as possible. The aim is to alleviate hardship and maintain family stability so that children will be safe and protected and grow up in a loving home. The SOS Social Centre ensures that children have access to essential health and nutritional services, as well as education. For children who never had the chance to attend school or who have dropped out, we offer a special “Asama” course, which enables them to reach the primary school leaving standard in one year. We assist parents by providing guidance on income-generating skills and parenting practices, as well as counselling and psychological support where needed. To support working parents, we also offer day-care for younger children. In cooperation with local organisations, we work towards strengthening the support systems for vulnerable families within the community. What we do in Antsirabe An SOS family sits down for a meal together (photo: SOS archives). The SOS Medical Centre offers medical assistance especially to pregnant women and babies. We also provide check-ups, vaccination programmes and other preventive measures. For children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, twelve SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 120 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. The children attend the SOS Kindergarten together with children from the neighbourhood, which ensures that they are integrated into the local community from a young age. The children then go on to complete their primary and secondary education at the SOS schools, which are attended by around 500 pupils. Like the social centre, the SOS schools also offer an intensive “Asama” course to enable older children to complete their primary education in one year.