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What Vulnerable Children Really Need This Holiday Season

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The holiday season is upon us, and toy drives are in full gear. It's wonderful to see communities reach out to families in need with trains, tea sets and teddy bears -- gestures of heartfelt giving that truly bring joy to children.

But toys are just the tip of the iceberg for children who have been orphaned or abandoned.
During the holiday season, people always ask me what these children really need to thrive. And I wish it were something we could find at a toy store.

For too many children around the world, we need to go all the way back to basics.

Children need a loving family. UNICEF estimates that there are 153 million children who have lost one or both parents, while 3,5 million have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Children who grow up without the stability of a family are at higher risk of exploitation, abuse and disease. At SOS Children's Villages, we strive to protect children from these potential dangers. We provide loving homes and, most vitally, loving mothers who offer individual attention and guidance. We provide quality education and healthcare so these children have a chance at a successful future.

Children need unconditional love. It's the foundation to a happy and healthy life, and you can't measure it with statistics. But it's made very clear by the happiness of children like Suri, a young girl who is thriving at our SOS Village in Semarang, Indonesia.

In 1997, during a time of severe economic depression in Indonesia, Suri was born in the impoverished village of Purworejo, Java. Her father left home in search of work and did not return, and her mother's mental health suffered -- she roamed the streets looking for her husband, and she and Suri spent days in different mosques eating leftovers to survive.
Suri's grandparents then took her in, but without a permanent source of income, they were unable to provide her with enough food. In 2003, when Suri was 6, her older sister began working as a housekeeper for a neighboring family. The father of that family immediately recognized that Suri was malnourished, and brought her to our SOS Village in Semarang.

Her SOS mother, Mila, was absolutely devoted to her care and health. After over a year of suffering from persistent insomnia and anxiety leading to anti-social behaviors, Suri was able to recover from the trauma she had experienced. Mila offered her the life-changing love and consistent, careful attention necessary for the development of trust -- and this trust in tandem with counseling allowed Suri to heal. She began making friends and learning quickly in school. Today, she's a thriving junior high school student with a plan to become an accountant.

This kind of transformation is only possible with unconditional love and support. Toys are a great start, but this holiday season, let's do our part to ensure all children receive the building blocks to a successful life. Love, food, shelter, education, and health care allow vulnerable children to survive and thrive.