It’s incredible what a person can see and do in three short days. Of course, all it takes is a moment to change a person’s life. That’s exactly how I would describe my recent trip to the Dominican Republic with Air Transat and SOS Children’s Villages Canada: life-changing. Moment after moment, I felt something shift inside me as I saw the good both of these organizations were doing. The three days touring Santo Domingo and the villages felt like so many more as we got a crash course in exactly what SOS was and how Air Transat was supporting its mission. Although there are so many facets to explore, here are the not-so-basic basics:
SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGES
Founded in Austria by Hermann Gmeiner in 1949, SOS Children’s Villages has since become the world’s largest orphaned child charity. The original concept was so simple: WWII left many women widowed and children orphaned. Gmeimer brought them together to restitch the family unit and the model ended up spreading like wildfire.
…all it takes is a moment to change a person’s life…
Although times of war inspired the first few villages in Europe, today SOS Children’s Villages addresses many reasons children become orphaned and displaced in a global effort to make a difference. In the Dominican Republic, the number one cause is domestic violence. Granted, SOS stepped in initially due to a natural disaster in 1979.
That being said, the tolerance for violence in this country is terrifying. The root of it seems simple to me: poverty. Yet it isn’t simple at all. Natural disasters and miseducation are a couple examples of factors not in the people’s direct control. These led to a rampage of disciplinary abuse, domestic violence, early marriages, sexual abuse and teen pregnancy — all of which are common causes of orphaned children.
…the tolerance for violence in this country is terrifying.
There are two sides to the Dominican Republic, the one we see on postcards and the one I saw last month. Although tourism has become an important source of income for the country, it has brought with it other terrible consequences including commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. To see travel companies such as Air Transat acknowledge this truth and step in to help change these chilling circumstances brings hope.
AIR TRANSAT x SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGES
SOS is more than the sum of its villages. The non-profit recognizes that they provide a bandaid to a problem, not a solution — even though these “bandaids” are incredible refuges from the dire reality its trying to address, ones that allow children to be raised in their own countries as well. Yet since one of their most important pillars revolves around the latter, SOS has made it a priority to help re-educate the Dominican Republic people in hopes of keeping the original family together.
With the help of Air Transat, SOS has created and introduced family strengthening programs, which provide support to disadvantaged families with the goal of preventing child abandonment. Working in tangent with local authorities and other charities, these programs offer skills training, small business and micro enterprise initiatives and community development.
The necessity for this nonprofit in general is indisputable.
We had the honour of speaking to a few members of the Barahona and Paraiso communities in Santo Domingo to see how these programs have helped so far. Although it has only been in place for a few months, those we spoke to communicated how fortunate they feel to have such support and how it has changed their perspective on violence in the home. Change might not happen immediately, but the fact that they were more aware of their actions and what it could mean for the future of their families was hopeful. Funding to extend and expand these programs would only benefit the community, that’s clear.
It was also emphatically more eye-opening to witness the environment the children in the villages came from. The necessity for this nonprofit in general is indisputable.
My initial mission when coming home was to talk about the difference between international volunteerism and charitable tourism. I think it’s important to revisit that post to understand why SOS Children’s Villages stands out from other non-profit organizations. there are right and wrong ways to step into tenuous situations, especially when different cultures are involved and even more especially when children are involved.
To see the work SOS and Air Transat has done sheds light not only on the scary state many parts of the world are in, but also the proper way to make a difference. Nothing’s perfect, but from everything I’ve learned so far, this comes pretty close.