Born in Senegal but raised in an SOS family in Germany, Irene Bailey is a true example of what can be achieved despite a rocky start in life. Her life’s story is also a testament to how providing unconditional love to a vulnerable child can motivate that child to pay it forward.
[Irene was just nominated for the 2016 Hermann Gmeiner Award, an annual award given to an outstanding SOS alum. Vote below for Irene!]
In 1975, tragic family circumstances led Irene, who was just 20 months old, and her 3-year old sister N’dine to move to Germany with her maternal grandmother, who was living in Germany at the time. Her grandmother decided that the best place for her two granddaughters to grow up was at the SOS Village in Eisenberg, Germany. There, the two sisters were raised under the loving care and guidance of Gudrun, their SOS Mother, who was simply “mom” to the girls.
Irene and N’dine with their SOS brothers at the SOS Village in Eisenberg, Germany, when they were just toddlers.
Both Irene and N’dine later moved to the United States, where Irene has been heading the SOS Children’s Villages Atlanta Volunteer Chapter for more than a decade. The chapter has held countless functions to raise money for SOS Children’s Villages. From dinner parties to soccer festivals, Irene has volunteered thousands of hours to make sure that SOS Children’s Villages is a name known throughout Atlanta. Her efforts to introduce companies, donors and political leaders to SOS Children’s Villages have resulted in the raising of tens of thousands of dollars.
“My motivation to help others stems from the awareness that I was loved unconditionally by my SOS (Children’s Village) mom and was taken care of in the most amazing way by people who do not share my DNA,” says Irene.
In 2014, Irene hosted a soccer tournament to celebrate the World Cup and fundraise for SOS. She worked tirelessly to secure fields, vendors, teams, and donations for the Atlanta International Soccer Festival. She did all this while working her normal day job, raising two kids and getting married. The event received an endorsement from the Atlanta mayor and support from the local professional soccer team. In total, it generated over 70 media hits.
“My wish is that children around the world don’t have to suffer as much in the future and that places like SOS (Children’s Villages) therefore become less and less necessary. However, in the meantime, I hope SOS will receive more awareness, funding and support so that even more loving homes will be created for children in need all over the globe,” she says.