Hermann Gmeiner, 1968 in
Photo: SOS Archives

Curriculum vitae of Hermann Gmeiner, founder of SOS Children's Villages

HermannGmeiner was born to a big family of farmers in Vorarlberg (Austria) on 23 June1919. His mother died while he was still a young boy, and his eldest sisterElsa took on the task of caring for the smallest of the children. He was atalented child and won a scholarship to attend grammar school.

Confrontedwith war orphans and homeless children

Havingexperienced the horrors of war himself as a soldier in Russia, he was thenconfronted with the isolation and suffering of the many war orphans andhomeless children as a child welfare worker after the end of the Second WorldWar. In his unswerving conviction that help can never be effective as long asthe children have to grow up without a home of their own, he set about implementinghis idea for SOS Children's Villages.


Foundation for first SOS Children'sVillage in 1949

Withjust 600 Austrian Schillings (approx. 40 US Dollars) in his pocket HermannGmeiner established the SOS Children's Village Association in 1949, and in thesame year the foundation stone was laid for the first SOS Children's Village inImst, in the Austrian Tyrol.

His work with the children and thedevelopment of the SOS Children's Village organization kept Hermann Gmeiner sobusy that he finally decided to discontinue his medical degree course.


Commitment to child-centered care: Amother, a house, siblings, a village

Inthe following decades his life was inseparably linked with his commitment to afamily-based care concept with the four pillars of a mother, a house, brothersand sisters, and a village. Given his exclusive focus on the need to helpabandoned children, the rest of his biography reads like the history of SOSChildren's Villages themselves. He served as village director in Imst, organizedthe construction of further SOS Children's Villages in Austria, and helped toset up SOS Children's Villages in many other countries of Europe.

In1960, SOS Children's Villages International was established in Strasbourg asthe umbrella organization for SOS Children's Villages with Hermann Gmeiner asthe first president.


At the SOS Children's Village inBrazil
Photo: Alexander Gabriel

The idea spreading beyond Europe

Inthe following years the activities of SOS Children's Villages spread beyondEurope. The sensational "grain of rice" campaign raised enough fundsto permit the first non-European SOS Children's Village to be built in Daegu,South Korea in 1963.


SOSChildren's Villages on the American and African continents followed. By 1985the result of Hermann Gmeiner's work was a total of 233 SOS Children's Villagesin 85 countries. In recognition of his services to orphaned and abandonedchildren he received numerous awards. However, he was always at pains to stressthat it was only thanks to the support of millions of people that it had beenpossible to achieve the goal of providing abandoned children with a permanenthome, and that still applies today. Hermann Gmeiner died in Innsbruck, Austria,in 1986. He is buried at the SOS Children's Village in Imst.