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The SOS Social Centre of São Vicente was officially inaugurated!

The Cape Verde Island of São Vicente was celebrating on 16 April 2009! The day marked the official inauguration of the SOS Social Centre constructed in the outskirt of Mindelo, the main city of the island. Attended by the president of Cape Verde, Mr Pedro Pires and the mayor of São Vicente, Mrs Isaura Gomes, the event was coordinated by the national director of SOS Children's Villages Cape Verde, Mr Dionisio Pereira. Guests also included key members of SOS Children's Villages Luxembourg, various representatives from Luxembourg* and of course children and families attending the centre.

Established a year ago, the SOS Social Centre of São Vicente has the following mission: "to guide families and make them a solid unit with capacities to resist external forces and successfully fulfil their social functions".

During the inaugural speech, President Pires called for "solidarity and generosity towards others", pointing out that "we need to know how to give without humiliating the other one". As he reminded that the history of SOS Children's Villages began 60 years ago with the vision of the late Hermann Gmeiner, its founder, President Pires also recognised that though his vision and determination he has "built an hymn to peace and solidarity".

Mr Dionísio Pereira, national director of SOS Children's Villages Cape Verde, took the floor and explained that such a project is a way to embrace more children and work with their families. "We are working with families in strengthening their structure and preventing child abandonment, but also with communities, to develop their capacities to meet the needs of their vulnerable children and solve their own problems". Mr Pereira reminded that the best place for a child to live is his family. "But for this, we need to make sure families are able to protect and care for their children", he added.

In her speech, the mayor of São Vicente, Mrs Isaura Gomes, stressed the need to take into account that Cape Verde has seen an increasing number of abandoned children. "Initiatives like this [the SOS Social Centre of São Vicente] have to fill several gaps in the policy of child protection", she added. "In São Vincent, the unemployment rate of people above 15 years old is by far the highest in Cape Verde (23.2%, against a national average of 17.3%). Similarly, the number of orphans or abandoned children is growing, making the island the second Cape Verdean pole of juvenile delinquency. The situation is of great concern for local authorities", she explained.

As she stated, "the SOS Social Centre is without a doubt a great asset!". "The approach and awareness done with street children has had positive changes and many of them have been participating in activities organised by the centre. Since the centre opened, we noticed much difference with regards to the behaviour of vulnerable children and adolescents who attend the centre", she added.

Mrs Maria da Luz Conceição, the coordinator of the SOS Social Centre highlighted the work done at the centre. Every day, the centre is busy with all sorts of activities organised for children and families: counselling sessions, sensitization sessions on key issues affecting families and children in São Vicente, support in establishing and training community groups to improve the social situation of women, children and youths in the whole community, feeding programme for some vulnerable children, sports and other entertaining activities, trainings of mothers in various areas, to help them find a job and provide them with skills among others. The centre also took over the implementation of the family strengthening programme [beneficiaries also benefit from various services offered at the centre and are also supported with food packages, medical and educational assistance according to their need]. Additionally, 13 street children were 'interns' [the Social Centre has a special unit to accommodate street children] and benefited from a holistic support [nutrition, healthcare and hygiene, education or training, counselling]. Three of them were recently successfully reintegrated with their families or a foster family!

"We want to change the behaviour in children and families", said Mrs Conceição. And over the past year, that was feasible, thanks to the collaboration of partners, sponsors and friends, both national and international. "We are always counting on your generosity and spirit of sharing for the well-being of our children and families", concluded Mrs Conceição.

"I like to be a part of the 'SOS family'" - a beneficiary addresses the public

9-year-old Mircea represented all children and families receiving the support of the SOS Social Centre and took the floor to end the speeches, before the unveiling of the plaque:

"I like to be part of the 'SOS family', because I feel that here we are like brothers and sisters and the SOS Social Centre is like our second home! It's very important for orphaned and abandoned children and needy families in difficulty! It's very safe and offers great social aid.

My family attends the SOS Social Centre and is part of its family strengthening programme. We enjoy the support we receive, like the school monitoring, the vocational training, the food support and the medical and psychological support.”

My brother was a street child, and thanks to the work of the social centre, he now lives in our family again.

I have another brother who lives on the street, but with the support of the centre, I believe he can also return to our family.

I and my family are proud to be part of the 'SOS family'!"

*The SOS Social Centre of São Vicente was co-financed by the government of Luxembourg and SOS Children's Villages Luxembourg. The municipality of São Vicente also contributed and constructed a sports field in the centre's premises. As of April 2009, the centre registered 613 child beneficiaries below 18 (13 street children - 'interns', 150 children (coming from 54 families) attending regularly activities organised at the centre and 450 (coming from 132 families) part of the family strengthening programme). A team of 11 staff run the centre (administrative, social, training staff) and four additional staff upkeep and look after the premises and gardens.