Raheesa Jina
Youth Ambassador
SOS Children's Village BC

Raheesa Jina is a Chancellor’s Scholar at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She is completing her 4th year of the Bachelor of Science and Master of Management (Business Administration) dual degree program. Since the age of 12 Raheesa has applied her passion for community service as an international SOS Ambassador both locally and internationally.

Raheesa has visited SOS Children’s Village-Mombasa, Nairobi, and Eldoret, Kenya. She was accompanied by her brother Aman. She has also visited SOS Prague and the SOS-International head office in Vienna twice. In Vienna, she was interviewed on international initiatives as well as planning for vulnerable children from the Syrian crisis. Raheesa also travelled to SOS Bern Switzerland to exchange ideas and share information on unique approaches to fundraising.

Most recently, she helped to organize, and host a fundraising event for Princess Salimah Aga Khan, International SOS Ambassador at the Hotel Vancouver. Raheesa is excited to be an SOS Ambassador because she feels she can make a valuable contribution to positively impacting the lives of foster children. By fundraising and bringing awareness to the organization we can all make a positive and impactful change in their lives.

In her spare time Raheesa enjoys hiking, spending time with her family, friends, and playing her guitar!

Speech by Raheesa Jina, SOS Gala, Hotel Fairmont, Vancouver

Tuesday October 16, 2018

Good Evening and thank you all for coming together at this very special and I’m sure what we will all treasure as a memorable event!

SOS International Ambassador Princess Salimah, President Thomas Bauer, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen –

My name is Raheesa Jina and I have been a Youth Ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages for seven years. As Youth Ambassador, I am very proud of the work done by SOS. I have helped organize local events. And to those of us in the Lower Mainland, we are fortunate to have SOS Children’s Village BC, which is the only SOS Children’s Village in Canada. I have also travelled to SOS Children’s Villages in Mombasa, Nairobi, Eldoret, Prague, Bern, and twice to the international head office in Vienna.

The first SOS village I visited was in Mombasa, Kenya in 2011 when I was in Grade 7. There had been much tribal violence following the elections and there were many children left without parents. I was profoundly moved to see how the village mamas received these children and created such a loving caring home for them. It was a truly sustainable community development in action. The village mamas are very special and I am happy to see that we are honouring SOS caregivers tonight.

What is an SOS Children’s Village?

Every SOS Children’s Village offers a permanent home in a family-style environment to children who have lost their parents or can no longer live with them. Four to 10 boys and girls of different ages live together with their SOS mother in a family house. And eight to fifteen SOS Children’s Village families form a village community.

The so-called ‘four principles’ – the SOS mother, the sisters and brothers, the family house, and the SOS Children’s Village – form the basis and framework of the concept of our work at SOS. The foremost of these principles is the mother, or mother-centred care.

Working with my brother Aman, who is also a Youth Ambassador for SOS, we returned from Mombasa and organized a school stationery drive at our local school. Through determined campaigning, over 5,000 stationery items were collected for distribution to school children in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2013, my brother and I visited Kenya and Tanzania and personally delivered the stationery items to six organizations including SOS Children’s Villages in Eldoret and Nairobi. At SOS Nairobi, the Village mamas treated us with delicious chai and mandazi fried sweet bread.

SOS Children’s Villages is focused on children and young people, especially those who are most vulnerable and at risk – struggling to survive in the midst of great difficulty.

Vulnerable children and youth, such as those in foster care, often have amazing talents which need to be encouraged and developed. Each child comes with a unique set of life experiences, and so the plan for their development has to be based on understanding those needs. All too often they don’t receive the same opportunities as children who get to grow up with their bio-parent.

Everyday life can present enormous difficulties for children in foster care to overcome. They often feel like they don’t belong, can’t learn, and aren’t successful. They are at risk of delayed social development and poor educational performance.

SOS aspires to enrich the life of every child and family we get involved with. We want kids to navigate successfully through life, so we provide a host of activities and programs that we consider necessary for their positive development.

And it is important that the voices of these children be heard and included in the process of meeting our collective global responsibilities. And I want to specifically thank our guest of honour today, International SOS Ambassador Princess Salimah for your many years of dedication and commitment to ensure that the voices of SOS children are heard.

In 2016, I visited the international head office of SOS in Vienna for the second time. I was returning from volunteering in Nepal. There are many SOS villages in Nepal. At the time, SOS had responded in a major way in providing assistance after a large earthquake in Kathmandu. I was pleased to note that the SOS office in Vienna even had a “Kathmandu” Boardroom. Through discussions on SOS initiatives underway in Nepal, Albania, Syria and Lebanon, I developed a deeper understanding of the international work of SOS.

Two years ago, SOS had its General Assembly. SOS leaders from all over the world met at Innsbruck and approved a global strategy to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. At the international meeting, young people were very involved. The key goals to 2030 are for SOS to be at the forefront of global advocacy, to protect children, and expand operations to protect children at risk.

From my experience, indeed SOS is very much in the forefront when it comes to advocacy and trying out new ideas.

Integrated Villages

One new approach that is being tried out in urban settings is having an “integrated” village with different SOS apartments in one building. Young people have provided feedback that it is beneficial not to be isolated and that it’s better to live with other non-SOS families.

Solar Power

SOS now has several villages which receive their energy from solar power. The SOS village that I visited in Mombasa received its energy from a solar panel field which was generously donated by the international Danone yogurt company. The village had made it a priority to get the solar panels installed. Traumatized children from the civil war were very frightened by power outages and brownouts. Solar power has ensured the village has a constant and consistent supply of power.

Repurposing Older Villages

SOS is repurposing its older villages. With the Syrian humanitarian crisis, there were many unaccompanied children who arrived as refugees in Germany and Austria. The first SOS village was started in Tyrol, Austria, after World War II to support children who had lost their parents in the war. Today, we have children from the Syrian conflict who are living in the original village in Tyrol.

Corporate Partnerships

In terms of corporate partnerships, SOS has a “Go Teach” program where corporations mentor SOS kids to develop job skills and transition more successfully to working livelihoods as adults. The program is active in 26 countries including Kenya.

Legal Advocacy

Legal advocacy is very important to SOS. In the Czech Republic, which I visited, SOS leaders explained to me how hard they had to work to overhaul the old communist era laws so they could move from a very institutional model of care to SOS’s mother-centred model of care. Another small example is Albania. In Albania, alternative care ends at age 14. SOS managed to get the law changed so that children can now continue to stay in SOS villages until age 18.

Tonight I want to invite you all to join in and be a part of this movement for change. I love SOS because I know I can make a difference. In my humbling journey with SOS, I have learned that it is important to have a good understanding of the context of people’s lives and most importantly their cultures.

So I stand before you, enthusiastic and excited about raising awareness through sharing my stories about SOS. It is a truly global organization with a very large and vital mandate to protect and care for vulnerable children who have lost their parents, and it is deserving of all our support.

Thank you.