Tucked away in Surrey is an organization benefitting children who have experienced trauma in their young lives.
The SOS Children’s Village has helped turn their lives around and on Sunday, they were visited by royalty.
Princess Salimah paid a visit to the SOS Children’s Village in Surrey for the first time. She joined the organization in 2000 as the first SOS-Kinderdorf International Ambassador for Children.
“Foster care is an issue around the world,” Princess Salimah said. “The average foster child is moved around seven times in their lives. It means that having a home like this is so vital for these children.”
Surrey resident’s Gilles and Louis Bouchard wanted to get involved in foster care during the 1980’s, and that’s when they first heard of the SOS Children’s Village.
“We wrote to Austria in 1981 and they embraced us,” said Louis Bouchard. “They’ve helped us achieve our goal along the way.”
“We had no background in funding, so we did every type of fundraising imaginable to build this village,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what the village has become now.”
After years of raising money, the first house was built on the property in 1999. They’ve built an additional four houses on the lot over time, bringing the village total to five.
There are also seven other houses in Surrey housing SOS Children, with the organization being home to about 40 children around the city. In the SOS Children’s Village in Surrey, 25 children live there with their foster parents.
Foster parents are also able to live there with their biological children.
Although most foster children are sent out the door once they turn 18-years-old, the SOS Children’s Village in Surrey employs a different strategy.
They rent out basement suites in each house to the 18-year-olds for $400 per month, far below market rate. They also put aside $100 for the children each month so that when they move out, they have $1,200 to use for their next home.
On the outside, the houses look like any other houses in your neighbourhood. Inside, they are homes to foster kids who have suffered serious trauma early in their life.
Behind the five properties exists a shared backyard area with a basketball court, playground, trampoline and an adventure forest. There’s also a “village centre” which has a music room, homework room, and a room for kids to play board games.
“It’s a world-class village,” said Princess Salimah.
Although the SOS Children’s Village is prominent around the world, there’s only one foster village in Canada, here in Surrey.
The SOS Children’s Village is home to foster children in 31 countries around the globe. Most of those are in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Only three villages exist in all of North America.
Executive director Douglas Dunn is hoping to change that, starting in Surrey.
Behind the current SOS Children’s Village is a two-acre property. The organization is looking for wealthy individuals to come forward, or for donations so that they can buy the property.
With those two acres, the SOS Children’s Village in Surrey could build another five houses on the opposite side of the property, bringing the entire village up to ten houses.
“This is about making a model,” said Dunn. “It’s about creating something that could be emulated across the province and hopefully across Canada.”