By Kavita Charanji
Monday, October 3, 2011
Unmarried women in India's first SOS Village make careers--complete with stresses, medical benefits and pensions--out of caring for large groups of abandoned and orphaned children. Boasting about their offspring comes with the territory.
Mohanty's neighbor, Kamolini Senapati, 44, is the mother of Sneh Sadan, House No. 8.
It's been 20 years since she first came here. A graduate from Salabala Women's College in Cuttack, Orissa, Senapati had training as a primary school teacher and thought that working in the SOS Village would be a natural progression.
Midway through her two-year training to be an SOS Village mom, she began to have serious doubts about whether she was cut out for the job. Taking care of children turned out to be harder than she'd realized.
"When I first joined the Mother's Training Center in Faridabad I had no idea of the work involved. Later, I began to feel that I was definitely in the wrong place. During the course of my training, I had worked as a support to some mothers and seen how children could be very difficult and obstinate at times," she recalls.
But she stuck it out, convinced by other trainees that the village was the best option for a single woman like her, looking for a secure environment.
"I realized that I would be pushed around in the outside world. Moreover, the idea of mothering children in dire need of love and care inspired me," she says.
Like Mohanty, Senapati has her own brood to brag about.
There's Leena, 22, who received a scholarship to study in a sister village school. She now has earned a bachelor's degree in computer programming from Delhi University and will be joining the Kurukshetra University to do an MBA.
"I never felt that I was alone or had nobody in the world," says Leena.
As in any family, clashes do occur, but counselors are on hand to help iron out the differences.
To build a sense of community, prayers are held every evening for the entire village. Also, for 30 minutes, the mothers and children talk about village-related issues or the events of the day.
"We try to provide a natural family environment," says Archana Chaturvedi, a counselor at SOS Children's Village Greenfields.
As the children get older, the mothers say, they begin to ask questions about how they arrived at the village. That process can go slowly.
"Their friends often question why they stay in an SOS Village," says one woman who runs one of the households as an SOS mom. "They learn to open up with friends."
The retirement age for SOS mothers is 58 and it comes with medical benefits and a small pension. Some feel so rooted in the villages that they stay in accommodations provided to them there.
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This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org.
Kavita Charanji is a New Delhi-based freelance writer specializing in culture, development and gender. She writes regularly for The Daily Star, Dhaka.
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