May 14th is celebrated as Mother’s Day across the world. We take this opportunity to celebrate and salute motherhood of a very different kind.
SOS Children’s Villages have been serving children in distress and in need of care and protection since 1949 across the world, present in 134 countries to date. These children are nurtured by SOS Mothers who are trained childcare professionals, dedicated to being mothers for their entire lives. Ms. Tulsi Parihar from India is the longest serving SOS Mother in the world, and she is from SOS Children’s Village Bhimtal, India.
Tulsi joined as a mother in 1984, and since then she has raised 33 children, spanning across four generations. We had a conversation with her recently to capture this incredible journey of 33 years, dedicated to humanity and transforming lives of children who needed love and nurturing. Here’s an excerpt.
Tulsi, tell us a little about your life before you joined SOS India.
I belong to an area in the interior of Uttarakhand. It is a small town named Kausani in Nainital District. I had a nuclear family that included my parents and two brothers. I studied in Government Inter College, Kausani, and have completed my high school (Class X).
Since I belonged to a rural area, I did not get many opportunities to complete my education. My father served in the Army, and my mother was a housewife. I got married when I was 19 years old and moved in with my in-laws in Bageshwar District. I adjusted well with everyone, and was living a happy life with my husband. After three years of marriage, I lost my husband. My in-laws did not support me after his death, and I had to move back to my parents’ place.
What motivated you to become an SOS Mother?
I knew my life would change after losing my husband, and it did. I had the responsibility of raising a one-year-old child. My parents and brothers could not support me financially due to their own family commitments and resource crunch. I was looking for a place that could give me stability, and was a safe place to work in. I came to know about SOS Children’s Villages of India through my uncle. He lived near the SOS Children’s Village Jammu. He briefed me about SOS India and its work.
When I visited SOS Village Greenfields, I came to know that they had a platform where one could serve as a mother. It was a safe and secure place that offered a dignified position as Mothers, and it was only then that I had decided to take this up. I started my initial training on 16th February, 1984, at the National Training Centre, Delhi. On 16th April, 1984, I joined as an SOS Mother in SOS Children’s Village Bhimtal. There has been no looking back since then!
I thank God every day for giving me this opportunity to work for once parentless and abandoned children and contribute to their welfare.
Why don’t you tell us something about your children in SOS India?
You know, I have raised 33 children till today. A big family, and each one of them are etched in my memory—their childhood, pranks, dreams, and aspirations. Out of those 33, I have 10 children in the Family Home with me now, a boy in the Youth Home, and five children in the hostel pursuing their higher education at present. 15 children have already been settled, out of which six girls and three boys are married. Out of the remaining two children, one of my daughters and sons has just started a new job.
What are the challenges you faced as an SOS Mother?
Working as an SOS Mother means looking after many children at the same time. Since children come from different backgrounds, I have sometimes faced difficulties helping them adjust in our family. Sometimes, dealing with adolescents and their behaviour also gets difficult and taxing, which is universally known. However, various training programmes, sessions on parenting skills, and support from the SOS Village staff helped me deal with such challenges. Now that I have been a mother for 33 years, it does not really seem like a challenge.
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During your journey in SOS India, what has been your happiest moment till now?
From the many happy moments that I have enjoyed in the SOS Family, it is very difficult to just pick one. However, there is one I would like to share.
One day when our beloved Papa Ji (Late Mr. J.N Kaul) gave me a surprise by telling me that I would be going abroad for an exposure trip, the joy I felt was immense! I could have never imagined that I would be able to go outside India.
I, along with a few other mothers from India, visited Germany, Italy, and Australia for a trip that lasted a month in the year 1992. During this visit, I got the opportunity to meet many SOS Mothers from different countries, Elsa Gmeiner (elder sister of Founder of SOS Children’s Villages, Dr. Herman Gmeiner), and Helmet Kutin (successor to Dr. Gmeiner). Exposure to many different International SOS Villages was also given to us, where we learned many new things about their culture and life. This was my happiest moment!
Apart from this, good academic performance of my children always makes me happy.
One of my children Sonali came from a Hindi medium school. So initially, she faced difficulties with her studies, but with hard work and continuous guidance, she performed very well. Currently, she is working in a software company in Delhi and is doing very well. The day Sonali got her first salary, she bought a saree for me. It was a very overwhelming feeling for me that filled me with happiness and contentment at the same time.
What are the biggest achievements of your children at SOS India?
I am pleased to share that my children are all well settled in life. Let me share a few of their stories:
- One of my daughters is married and well settled. She is working as a principal at SOS Nursing School, Faridabad.
- Another daughter Hema is also happily married. While her husband has a government job, she is working in a private company in Kolkata. Apart from her regular job, Hema also runs three beauty parlours, started by her and quite popular locally.
- My son Anirudh Parihar completed his Bachelors in Engineering and is placed in a reputed company in Jaipur.
- Another daughter is doing an MBA from Institute of Engineering and Technology. She has big dreams about her future.
- Sonali has completed her MBA from Jaipuria Institute, Ghaziabad.
Find out how you can help SOS Children’s Villages’ efforts to give more children secure and better upbringing, here.