In Gambia in 1981, as throughout Africa, increasing poverty was breaking up traditional family structures and forcing a rising number of children to fend for themselves in the streets. Tumanie Manneh, along with his younger brother, were among the lucky ones to be rescued by the first SOS Children’s Village Bakoteh built in Gambia that same year.
Tumanie (purple arrow) with his SOS friends in Gambia when he was a child. Photo from SOS Archives
Despite the new arrangement, Tumanie remained in contact with his biological mother—as SOS encourages—and saw her often. Of course, he also grew very fond of his surrogate SOS mother. You could see the deep affection in his eyes as they lit up when he talked about her. He said, “in fact, all the SOS mothers in the village looked after me as if I was their own son. I answered to all of them. It was truly like being raised by a village.”
Tumanie’s greatest life lessons were learned from his SOS mothers. “They taught us so much,” Tumanie says of his SOS caretakers. “The abandoned babies would come into the village and we would have to help wash the diapers and babysit them. We all pitched in to help each other,” he said.
Life in the village was good. Tumanie and his SOS sisters and brothers, had every opportunity to thrive. Aside from academics, sports and music were also encouraged. Tumanie played soccer, basketball, table tennis, volleyball, and went swimming often. He also played drums (like in a rock band!) everyday in the village.
When he was in High School, Tumanie moved to a transitional home in the SOS Youth Center. When he turned 18, he became the Youth Leader in the SOS Youth Hostel, where SOS boys go to live when they reach the age of 16 or start high school, as a stepping stone to independent living. He described it as “one foot in, one foot out, to get ready for the world.”
Tumanie soon developed an interest in accounting which eventually led him to a position as an account clerk at the SOS Training and Production Center, where he worked for five years. In the SOS Training & Production Center, SOS youths and others from the community learn skills in metal and wood work, plumbing, refrigeration and air conditioning, and other local craft. Being trained there was no different than living in the village: a high SOS standard for accountability carried itself across all facilities and all people involved in their operation.
Tumanie with his daughters. Photo from SOS Archives
Today, Tumanie is a successful adult, living and working to take care of his four daughters and other family members, like his biological mother and sisters. He has a vast network of friends and colleagues he can call on in times of need. All of his SOS siblings that he grew up with are living independently and working in different countries all over the world.
Tumanie wishes to express his gratitude to you by saying, “I wish I could thank everyone who put a penny into me. A big thanks to all of you for what you are doing—it is something bigger than you can see.”