YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast—Joel* had a tough beginning to his young life. An only child, Joel never met his father, and his mother died during childbirth. He lived with his grandmother, who was often sick, near the Ivorian capital of Yamoussoukro.
She tried to care for him but was very poor. Joel often went without enough food. He slept on the floor because he didn’t have a bed. There was no electricity in their small house, and when it rained, the water seeped through the roof.
In the Ivory Coast, the vast majority of the estimated 1.1 million orphaned children grow up without adequate family support. Many struggle to survive as street children in cities, begging for food and money.
In 2014, at age 4, Joel was given a new start.
“Joel was really happy when he arrived to the SOS Village. He hadn’t seen such a beautiful place before,” said his SOS Mother Kuogo. “He was so excited to know that he was getting a real home and a bedroom with a comfortable bed. He was running all over the place.”
Joel plays soccer with other children at the SOS Village in Yamoussoukro.
Today, there are 80 children growing up at the SOS Village in Yamoussoukro, with a total of about 450 children growing up among three SOS Villages in the country. Each SOS Village also has an SOS Family-Strengthening Program, which aims to prevent families like Joel’s from breaking down.
At the SOS Village, where Joel also attends school, he shares his home with his SOS Mother and SOS Brothers and Sisters.
“My SOS Brothers are nice to me,” he says. “We play together. Sometimes, we argue when we’re playing a game and someone loses…but after that, we keep playing together!”
Joel’s favorite subject is reading because he likes to learn new words and improve his French, the official language of the Ivory Coast. He says that he wants to become a teacher when he grows up.
His SOS Mother, Kuogo, says that Joel has grown a lot over the past two years.
“Joel quickly got used to his new life,” she said. “He now has a good French level compared to when he arrived. He can wash himself alone, a simple thing that he couldn’t do before.”
*Name changed to protect the child’s privacy.
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