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Peace In Our Time: SOS Founder's Words Still Resonate 33 Years After Death

SOS

Last June 23rd, we celebrated what would’ve been the 100th Birthday of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Austrian Philantropist and SOS Children’s Villages Founder, Hermann Gmeiner. In his honor, we take a look back on one of his most important speeches, a testimonial in 1979 about the principles SOS upholds, and the impact of our good actions to the world of children and peace.

Original Transcript of a Speech By Hermann Gmeiner in 1979

All the children in the world are our children. The day we can support a total conviction that all children are our children, peace will reign on earth. As long as parentless and abandoned children all over the world are rejected by society, and are neglected by it, there will be no peace.

It was Innsbruck in 1949. For the first time I met children who had no parents, children who were growing up on the fringes of society, children who were placed in institutions and homes. Many children became mentally ill, despairing individuals. Looking after these children was not primarily about educational reform, but about an act of love, of healing, of gathering these children into the fold of humanity, of integrating them into society.

That was when I developed the four educational principles. They were the most self-evident things, the simplest things in the world.

The first principle: The SOS Mother – we have to give the orphaned, abandoned child a new mother. The mother is a person to whom they can permanently relate. This was the beginning of a new profession for women: motherhood at a social level, a mother who says yes to a child who is not her own, who not only takes this child in, but accepts it.

Second principle: Brothers & Sisters – The SOS Children’s Family consists of 6 or more children of different ages, boys and girls, just as in any other large family. In earlier days, other organizations used to separate siblings.

Third principle: The House – a newly-structured SOS Children’s Family is given its own house. It is their house. For the abandoned child, this is a lasting and profound experience.

An SOS boy says goodbye to his classmates on the way back from school, “Peter, I’ve got to go home now, or my mum will be angry.” In other words, I have a home and a mother just like you.

All our children want is to be like everyone else. They want to be no more and no less. Having one’s own home is a mark of security and safety.

Fourth principle: The Village – around the SOS Children’s Village Family, we create another protected area. In the world of a small village, everyone knows about everyone else. There are neighbors, women and children, there is the village caretaker, the kindergarten. However, there should be no school and no separate church in the village. The children are integrated into the parish of their denomination. They attend state schools and go to any type of school, depending on their talents. From special school to university, they are integrated.

One of our children wrote to one of his friends, “You know, we live just like normal people.”

All the children in the world are our children. Will we one day look after the millions of children with no home as if they were our own?

I often ask myself how “good” could be defined in this world of ours, and I think the definition of “good” is to be seen as doing more than one has to do—to do more than we are paid for, more than what we are asked to do.

Miracles always happen when people do more for one another than they absolutely have to. Doing more is perhaps the grace that people can exercise for one another.

If today [in 1979], 30 years after the foundation of the first SOS Children’s Village, we want to take stock, we can say that nearly 5 million people have understood not only the appeal to their social awareness, but also our plea to do more than they have to. […] At the end of the day, our belief in the good is also decisive in the matter of war and peace.

Is it really the case that only those holding power can decide on war and peace? Is it the case that we are fully at the mercy of others, or is there something we can do? I believe there is a lot we can do. We can prepare a peace that will last longer than paper treaties. We can strive to teach peace in our families, in the schools, in the villages, in all our living communities.

Peace is something that needs to grow, and if this peace grows in the houses, in the villages, and all the communities that people work and live together, then one day there will be a generation of statesmen who not only want peace but are capable of putting it into practice.

If today, there are [559] SOS Children’s Villages in the whole world, this means there are [559] models of peace. If there are millions of people who have joined hands to build SOS Children’s Villages, to bring up an erstwhile potentially dangerous minority of children to become peaceful people, then this is an important contribution by many people to peace. Thus, across all spiritual and continental borders, through the reconciliation and rapprochement of millions of adults and children, a large peace movement has dawned.

But this is only the beginning. Soon there will be SOS Children’s Villages in every country in the world, and ever more millions of people will join hands and be disciples for the peace that needs to grow in the houses, the schools, and the villages. This all would give us hope that the day will come perhaps when all children have become our children and that in our common home, this earth of ours, we are closer to peace than we are to war.