SOS Children's Village El Alto is located about 4,000 m above sea level in the town El Alto next to the city of La Paz. El Alto has the most pronounced demographic growth of any Bolivian town; more than 50% of its population is younger than 19 years old. This extreme demographic development began in the1970s and was due to increased migration of people from the countryside. From the middle of the 1980s, this development continued when many companies in the Bolivian mining centres Oruro and Potosí were closed down as they were no longer making a profit. Many unemployed miners moved with their families to El Alto and to of La Paz to look for work and better living conditions.
Since the improvement of the infrastructure could not keep pace with the increasing number of inhabitants and although there was undeniable progress, there is still a noticeable lack of public schooling, health facilities and traffic routes, and, in some places, adequate water supplies. More than 70% of the El Alto's families live in poverty, life expectancy is only 62 years and more than 88% of the population is illiterate. The extreme poverty of the population leads to many children being malnourished, bad performance at school due to frequent absence, child labour as well as alcohol and drug abuse among young people and adults. Violence and families breaking up are widespread problems; every day children are abandoned by their parents.
In view of El Alto's social problems, SOS Children's Villages decided to build an SOS Social Centre in addition to the SOS Children's Village in town, a facility that will contribute towards improving the social conditions.
The SOS Children's Village was built on 17,500 m2 of land in the district of Villa Nueva Asunción and has twelve family houses with a capacity of up to 108 children. Apart from the family houses, the SOS Children's Village consists of a village director's house, another one for the SOS aunts (SOS mothers in training or family assistants who lend a helping hand to the SOS mothers), a guest house for SOS co-workers in training, a store room, an office building and a multi-purpose hall for different activities and events that take place in the SOS Children's Village.
For youngsters from the SOS Children's Village, an SOS Youth Facility has been set up in town. Young people usually move from the SOS Children's Village to an SOS Youth Facility when they start a vocational training course or go on to higher education. With the support of qualified youth workers, the young people develop realistic perspectives for their future, learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions. They are encouraged to develop team spirit and build up contacts with relatives and friends, as well as with the relevant authorities and potential employers.
The SOS Social Centre aims to offer support and counselling to around 260 people, mostly women with small children, with an emphasis on supporting single mothers in their daily struggle for survival through counselling and further vocational training and, in doing so, preventing them from being forced to abandoning their children. As a result of the opportunity to take their children to be looked after at the SOS Day Care Centre, mothers are able to go to work and earn money for the family. Furthermore, the SOS Social Centre aims to provide basic medical care. The SOS Social Centre is made up of two sick-rooms, a doctor's surgery, a dentist's surgery, a small dispensary, a classroom for children, a classroom for adult education, a refectory, a kitchen with a pantry, washrooms, toilets, offices and the care-taker's flat.