Dr. Gmeiner Dies; Set Up Orphanages
Hermann Gmeiner, an Austrian physician who opened a shelter for World War II orphans that developed into an international network of 225 homes for more than 30,000 youngsters in 85 countries, is dead.
Gmeiner died Saturday of cancer at University Hospital in Innsbruck. He was 67.
Gmeiner, who never married, was born into a devout farm family of eight children. His mother died when he was a child.
He said in an interview last year that he got the idea for his “Kinderdorfs” after returning from service in the German army and seeing the plight of orphans and abandoned children at the end of World War II.
He created the first of his SOS Children’s Villages in Tyrol in 1949. The foundation also runs hundreds of schools, clinics and workshops. In the villages, surrogate mothers, trained by the organization, live with a group of children in a family setting and have a free hand in running the household.
The villages, usually consisting of 15 to 20 houses, provide a permanent home for these children and are financed by private donations, which amounted to nearly $100 million last year.
Normally, six to eight children live together as brothers and sisters in a house with a “mother.” Each village is supervised by a director who serves as a father figure for the youngsters.
The children attend local schools and are supported until they reach adulthood. Older children can live in student or apprentice houses while they learn a trade or a profession.
In 1963, the first villages spread from Europe and began springing up in developing countries.
Organization spokesman Reiner Damm said Monday that two villages currently are being planned in China and one in the United States, possibly in California.
“We have realized that the present generation of children must be given the chance to grow up happily if they are to secure a worthwhile future for us all,” Gmeiner said several years ago.
“The reward for our work, our trouble, our sacrifices, is the happy laughter of the children . . . all over the world who now have a permanent home and a family of their own.”
Gmeiner, who retired last year, twice was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.