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Aid Group to Establish Another 'Children's Village' in Cambodia - 2003-10-23

The international children's aid group, SOS Children's Villages, provides shelter for 52,000 children around the world.

SOS Children's Villages will break ground on its third village in Cambodia in February.

The international child welfare group operates villages in 131 nations.

Children's advocate Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, is a strong supporter of the group.

"We have to give our children the right to a healthy happy life, health care, protection and prevention," she said. "We have to make sure they are educated, and we have to give them all the rights that we have been so lucky to have."

The new children's community in Cambodia is being built with the support of a $1.5 million donation from a U.S.-based charity.

The village will house 150 children. Plans include building a kindergarten and a facility where HIV-infected members of the surrounding community can receive assistance. Three of the 15 houses will be designated just for Cambodian children infected with HIV.

SOS Children's Villages won the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award last year and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Christopher Zappia, head of SOS Children's Villages in the United States, says his group makes a long term commitment to the children it serves.

"The whole idea behind what we do is we create a family," he said. "If a child comes into one of our villages when he's one month old, they stay with us until they graduate from university and we take care of everything."

There are SOS Children's Villages in Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe. Caring for children who are orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS is a major focus of the villages in Africa, and is becoming increasingly important in Asia.

The group receives most of its funding from private donations. Individuals can also sponsor specific children. Jo LoCicero has sponsored three children in Senegal, and says she has received many letters from them.

"I thought for a long time they were only orphans, but they're not," she said. "Families are having a very tough time so their children go into this very warm environment, and if they can go back, they do. And they keep them in contact with their parents. So it's a very unusual setup, a very supportive one."

Children living in the two SOS Children's Villages in the United States, one in Illinois and one in Florida, face a different situation than the children in Africa. Many of the American children have been taken away from their families by the courts, then bounced from family to family in the foster care system.

In all the villages, 10 or more children live in a house, which is run by one or two local employees, who are referred to as "parents." Siblings in need of care are never separated from each other.

The first SOS Children's Village was founded in 1949 by an Austrian man who sought to provide a home for children who lost their parents in the World War II.