The children, who have now found their SOS mother in Anne, were the first to move into the village. Louise and Emma, Léon and Lucas (their names for the sake of this article, at least) now all attend primary school in Beauvais. “It’s a short walk away,” says Bintou, the family assistant who supports Anne with housekeeping tasks. The children have already found hobbies they enjoy. “Louise and Emma go horse riding, while Léon and Lucas play football and practise judo.”
And they have made friends, both in the children’s village and also in the local area. The eight family homes have gradually filled up since summer 2018. Even the community hall has been given a splash of colour and now features faces with aluminium noses and googly eyes. For Halloween, the windows were decorated with big pumpkins and ghosts. There’s also a small playground where the children can run around right on their doorstep.
“The village, just as our house, is absolutely beautiful and very comfortable,” Anne and Bintou are agreed. It’s just like a modern town house development. In the garden there’s a drying rack; two pairs of trainers sit in front of the door. A balance bike and a buggy are parked up a couple of houses down. The kids have certainly settled in and literally transformed the village into a real children’s village. Even the letterbox in front of the community hall has their hand prints on it and someone has added the words “Merci” and “Bills, postcards, letters”.
“We are glad to be here,” says Anne. She is an experienced SOS mother who previously spent almost 20 years working at the SOS Children’s Village in Châteaudun near Orléans. “I decided to join SOS Children’s Villages to share my joy of life and bring some joy to children who need it,” she says.
Bintou supports her as an “aide familiale” – a family assistant. She used to work in a kindergarten. One day she came across an advert for SOS Children’s Villages. “I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.”
The work demands a great deal from the women and their colleagues. The children have gone through a lot and experienced some traumatic circumstances. It is Anne and Bintou’s job to organise day-to-day life; they have to build an emotional relationship yet also be prepared to take a step back. To be a family – for a time. The women have to show tremendous self-control here.
At pretty much the same time as Beauvais-sur-Matha was being set up, SOS Children’s Villages in France was also working on the SOS Children’s Village in Gémozac in the same administrative district. “Building a new SOS Children’s Village, from scratch right up to the moment the children settle in to their house, is a very special experience for our organisation. It was quite exciting and challenging to open two SOS Children’s Villages within a six-month period,” explains SOS Director Isabelle Moret.
There was a huge and urgent need for the villages in the Charente-Maritime district. Rather than the six family houses originally planned for Beauvais-sur-Matha and a further six in Gémozac, the district ended up funding the construction of eight houses in Beauvais and seven in Gémozac, creating new homes for around 70 children. The two SOS Children’s Villages are really similar in terms of their architecture and fit in well aesthetically with the local surroundings. The technical systems installed in both locations are also the same.