SOS Children's Village Santa Maria The state of Rio Grande do Sul is one of the top scorers in the country in terms of the UN Human Development Index. However, the socioeconomic situation for much of the population means that their lives continue to be extremely insecure and often unsafe. Young people from struggling families are particularly vulnerable, and both parents and children need support. Even in the more developed southern regions of Brazil, many families need support Games in the children’s village garden (photo: SOS archives) SOS Children’s Village Santa Maria is located in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul in the country's interior, west of Porto Alegre. Santa Maria has roughly 260,000 inhabitants and is an important city in the region in terms of commerce and education. Rural poverty continues to be a problem in the country: even though it has been reduced from over 50 per cent in 1990 to just over ten per cent in 2008, this still leaves over 11 million rural poor. Subsistence farmers are finding it increasingly hard to make a living; the men therefore often migrate to the cities in search of work, leaving the women behind to care for the children and the land. This, in turn, leads to children having to work because mothers lack support. While 19.6 per cent of the overall population of Rio Grande do Sul state live below the national line of poverty – the lowest rate in all of Brazil – the proportion of children affected is much higher, at 36.7 per cent. Young mothers and children who have lost parental care need support Over 430,000 children in the state benefit from the “Bolsa Familia” aid package, meaning that they come from low-income families where parents struggle to meet basic needs such as food or health care, where children are often made to work in order to contribute to the family income and their education is therefore severely endangered. In 2006, 18.4 per cent of babies here in Rio Grande do Sul were born to teenage mothers. When these young girls come from a disadvantaged background, they may lack education and opportunities to generate income and are hence unable to provide for their child. Often, it is hard for single mothers to find work as they have no one to look after their children. Less than half of the children under the age of six attend some form of preschool or day-care. What we do in Santa Maria Fun at the children’s village playground (photo: A. Gabriel) SOS Children’s Village Santa Maria in Rio Grande do Sul began its work in 1980. Today, our social centre here provides a family strengthening programme, which aims to alleviate hardship in the community in a holistic and sustainable manner. Its services include a day-care centre and childminding programme where children can be cared for. This allows working parents and single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living. Our efforts also address the needs of parents, by providing them with support and training. For children from the area who are no longer able to live with their parents, SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.