07/29/2010 06:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Looking Back and Giving Back

I have written a check to my high school alma mater for the repair of its watch tower. I have responded to the drumbeat for money from a college alumni office. But those are small gestures of giving back to what made me who I am -- compared to what a special group of SOS Children's Villages alumni is doing to honor their past. These are men and women who grew up in SOS Villages around the world, return home regularly to the village they call home, and are now pooling resources to build a library for orphaned children in the SOS Village of Tema, Ghana.

These young professionals hail from SOS Villages in cities or small towns in countries like Benin and Sierra Leone and Ghana. Their emotional ties to the SOS Villages that raised them pull them back to the younger children they left behind. As one alumnus said to me, "I see myself when I look into the faces of young boys and girls from my village. I remember the struggles I had to find myself, to learn discipline in sports and school, and I remember the strong desire I had to make something of myself."

For these SOS alumni, rallying around the goal of creating a small library at SOS-Tema is the first step to taking responsibility for those left behind. The one-room library will be a quiet haven away from the noise and bustle of SOS households. "When you're young, doing your homework around a large kitchen table with your SOS mother is comforting. But as you get older you start to long for space and quiet," another SOS alum told me.

That's what this little library will provide -- it will be a peaceful space full of books and computers. It will even have air conditioning. "Years ago it would have been heaven to have had such a place to go after school and on weekends," another young woman, now a law student, said. "I still credit everything I am to SOS and my SOS mother. This library is something we can all feel proud of, and it's just the beginning. We plan to give back by raising money for other projects and other villages."

Remembering Roots, Helping Others

As the CEO of SOS Children's Villages-USA, I am so moved by these men and women who are truly "success stories" of SOS in every way -- they proved themselves good students and dreamed of futures they made happen. But just as importantly, it is about who they are as human beings. The SOS Village inculcated in them a strong set of values: love and respect for their SOS mother, a strong work ethic, the will to help another generation of SOS children, and foremost, a commitment to returning to their homeland to take leadership positions.


One such success story is Michael Y. Sam. Michael entered SOS-Tema, Ghana, when he was three years old. Three decades later he lives in the United States. He earned an MBA from the University of Maryland and is now an information technology consultant. Every year he travels home to Tema to visit his SOS mother, who greets him with hugs, tears, and his favorite dish -- fufu, made of plantain and cassava. The SOS children look up to him, and he mentors all of them in different ways.

Together with other SOS alumni, Michael is raising funds for the Tema library and computer lab to increase the education and job prospects of SOS-Tema's current generation of children, whom he considers his brothers and sisters. "This is just the beginning," says Michael. There is so much to do for so many children who were like me when I was young."

Indeed, the world should have so many more children who grow up to look back and give back.

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