Nearly 50 years ago, Graciela was asked to do something that would change her life.
Two dozen children needed a new home because they lost the care of their biological families, Graciela was told in 1969. The directive continued: you will have to build a home for these vulnerable children, cook for them, make sure they excel in school, love them, and above all, become their mother.
Graciela had always wanted to help at-risk children so she took up the challenge with vigor. She and another woman, who would become SOS Mothers, helped build two houses out of sundried, clay bricks (called adobo houses). They had no stoves, heating or television. They washed all the children’s clothes by hand and made fresh bread at home by purchasing 100-pound bags of flour.
“We lived simply, but we were very happy,” Graciela said of her first SOS Family back when she helped found the SOS Village in Bulnes, Chile, the 10th SOS Village to be built in the Americas.
Graciela pictured during some of her earliest days as an SOS Mother in Chile.
Fast forward 46 years, Graciela is now 66 years old—although she says she feels like she’s less than 40—and has raised more than 100 children as an SOS Mother. All her children share two things in common: they all lost the care of their biological families due to factors such as domestic violence, death and poverty. And they all consider Graciela to be their mother.
As with all families, there were happy moments and sad ones for Graciela during the past 46 years.
She recalls one sad moment, in particular, which began with a phone call she received in the middle of the night.
“Oscar had an accident, and it’s very serious,” she was told.
Graciela flew immediately to see Oscar, one of the children she raised, who was in a coma when she arrived at the hospital. Graciela entered the room, held Oscar’s hand, and a few minutes later, he was gone, the tragic result of a traffic accident.
“He was waiting for you,” said Oscar’s wife.
Graciela and some of the seven children who she is currently raising.
But Graciela, of course, has many happy moments, such as when her children call her to wish her a happy birthday, or when they come to visit her. One of her children even keeps a spare room in his home for when she comes to visit.
Graciela currently claims the title of longest-serving SOS Mother. When she began her noble work, hers was the 49th SOS Village in existence globally. Today, there are more than 570 SOS Villages worldwide with more than 86,000 children growing up under the care of SOS Mothers like Graciela.
When asked why she has dedicated her life to raising vulnerable children, she said:
“SOS Children’s Villages for me is not work,” Graciela said in a recent interview. “It’s a life choice.”
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