SOS Children's Villages has been working in India since 1963. Our work developed rapidly all over the country and we have been present in Alibaug, near Mumbai, since 2010. The local communities here are amongst the most vulnerable in India, and the encroaching urban sprawl of Mumbai threatens to spread across the waters.
The population of the district has increased by over 19 per cent in the last decade
Siblings smiling at the camera (photo: SOS archives).
The city of Alibaug is a coastal town in the Raigad district in the region of Maharashtra in central western India. It is located about 30 km south of Mumbai and can be reached by road and sea. The population lives mostly off tourism; visitors are attracted to the numerous natural and cultural sites. Agriculture and fishing have provided people with livelihoods in the past, and industry is increasingly visible in the area.
The state of Maharashtra is one of the main destinations for migrants from other parts of India who are looking to improve their lives, and the district of Raigad is also a destination for this migration. According to the 2011 census the population of the district had grown by over 19 per cent in the previous decade. Poverty is widespread and affects people who do not have a job, are terminally ill or homeless but also people who work. For example, the majority of day labourers and small-scale artisans are poor. Many such people depend on support in order to survive.
Women and children are particularly affected by poverty. Children growing up in female- headed households are amongst the most vulnerable. The cycle of female poverty seems hard to break, as girls continue to drop out of education at an early age.
Many of the families living in the area near the SOS Children's Village belong to the Katkari community, a disadvantaged scheduled tribe which is amongst the most vulnerable in India. They have a low life expectancy and are subject to discrimination by wider society. In addition, the rate of HIV/AIDS in Maharashtra is one of the highest in India, with some figures stating that the region has around 25,000 children with the disease. Furthermore, recent reports suggest that there is still a social stigma attached to AIDS: families and children suffering from the illness often face discrimination in everyday life.
Finding a way to support vulnerable families in an expanding metropolitan area
SOS Children's Villages had wanted to become active in the Greater Mumbai area for a long time in order to help the countless number of children in need. However, due to the alarming rates of growth of the city, all suitable pieces of land which could be reached by road proved to be very expensive for our organization. We therefore decided to set up in Alibaug, which can be easily reached by regular ferry from the Gateway of India. We care for children from the surrounding areas, but children are also referred to us from Mumbai. All the necessary facilities such as kindergartens, schools, hospitals and a market are within easy reach of the SOS Children's Village.
What we do in Alibaug
Alleviating poverty and preventing abandonment is a high priority for SOS Children's Villages in Alibaug. The family strengthening programme enables children who are at risk of losing the care of their family to grow up within a loving family environment. To achieve this, we offer access to essential services for children’s development (for example educational, nutritional and health advice) and we support families so that they can protect and care for their children.
Local women from the family strengthening programme learning how to make candles (photo: SOS archives).
We also aim to raise awareness of hygiene, children's rights and parenting skills. Single mothers in particular are given training and advice on income-generating activities. Vulnerable women from the community have received training in tailoring, or have learnt to make decorative candles and small items out of jute. When needed, the SOS Kindergarten can also provide day care for young children.
Children who can no longer live with their birth families can find a loving home in one of the 14 SOS families. They attend the local schools alongside children from the neighbouring area. Furthermore the children all play together in the playground, and they all participate jointly in local festivities.