SOTAS (Social Service Volunteers)

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (A. de Saint-Exupéry)

 

SOTAS (“Social Service Volunteers”) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in Lithuaniain 2002 at the initiative of several friends who wished to respond to the needs of young people and families experiencing difficulties. Its main mission is to improve the well-being of children, youth and families by paying special attention to education.

 

Objectives of SOTAS’ activities:

  • To improve the well-being and overall social integration of children and families, with special focus on education at all levels;
  • to strengthen the family as the primary and most important environment for personality development, to foster common human values and to provide social and educational support to children and families in difficulty;
  • to encourage solidarity and partnerships between non-governmental and public institutions and to create a cooperative network in order to satisfy the needs of people who need help;
  • to join together in creating new and more effective social policies related to the well-being of children, young people and their families, and a social culture based on underlying values and positive attitudes.

 

How we operate:

Projects are being implemented with a focus on comprehensive intervention: different activities are integrated and linked to one main objective – to provide social support to children, youth and families in order to improve their lives. The methodology of SOTAS is an educative approach based on the recognition of the inherent value and dignity of every person we work with, on his/her treatment as an integral person, on building a strong relationship and nurturing it through time and persistent work seeking his/her empowerment. At the centre of all of our work is the person, thus in designing the activities the attention is drawn to his/her peculiar needs. In situations of hardship we start our work with a focus on what is there, not what is missing. We view people’s difficulties as providing the opportunity to enter into a positive relationship.

SOTAS strongly collaborates with governmental agencies as well as with local and foreign NGOs and seeks to contribute to the creation and strengthening of cooperative networks.

 

Areas of activities:

- Social-educational work with children and young people living in socially unfavourable environments, including support to young people living in institutional care in the areas of social integration and entry into the labour market.

  • Children and Youth Day Care Centre, operating since 2007: SOTAS provides a safe, responsive and attentive environment and education based upon a relationship. It offers children from families at risk the possibility to spend time meaningfully, as well as opportunities for self-expression. It is a place where they learn to take care of themselves and of others, and get to know themselves and their talents. Children are helped by volunteers to do their homework and participate in educational games. Various educational and recreational activities are organized including music lessons, creative art workshops, games, cooking lessons, sport, dance, presentations about various countries and cultures, sightseeing, theatre, summer camps, and others. Children improve their communication, creativity, autonomy, responsibility and self-control skills; they discover their talents and their self-confidence grows. Thanks to the attention, professionalism and creativity of our educators and volunteers the activities are continually modified to respond better to the needs of the children who attend the centre. The children are also provided with free meals.

- Working with families at risk. These families are affected by multiple and complex problems such as long-term unemployment, lack of social and/or parenting skills, problems related to a child’s behaviour, crisis of family relations, violence, alcoholism, incapability to deal with social problems which cause a permanent crisis or social exclusion.  In order to prevent child neglect and abandonment, it is necessary to give comprehensive social support to the family. We seek to restore and enhance family functions by providing consultations with social workers, educators or psychologists and by organizing groups for improving parenting skills. Parents learn alternative adequate methods for child education, means of understanding their children’s needs, characteristics of child development, etc. In accordance with the model of integrated support, parents are involved in various SOTAS’ activities, aimed at motivating them to improve their lives and relationships within and outside the family, as well as helping in the search for employment and stimulating the processes of integration into society.

- Search, preparation and evaluation of people who wish to become foster or adoptive parents; providing assistance both during and after the adoption process, as well as supporting self-help groups.  Since 2004, SOTAS has been implementing this activity as an official partner to the Child Rights Protection Service of Vilnius. Initially SOTAS’ experts were working with an internally designed programme (which was used also by some other organizations). In 2008, SOTAS began to use the PRIDE programme (USA) which was adapted to the Lithuanian context with the collaboration of SOTAS. One of the SOTAS’ psychologists is qualified to train PRIDE specialists.

- Encouragement of “ordinary” families to gather together and participate more actively in society, as well as empowerment of existing communities;

- Social policy: lobbying in order to strengthen and protect the family institution (e.g., SOTAS is taking part in the Family Policy Supervisory Board at the Lithuanian Parliament), participating in working groups instituted by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and Vilnius Municipality with the aim of creating more effective social policy (e.g. as regards foster care), providing consultations on legislation and policy proposals in the field of family and child welfare, developing partnerships and encouraging collaboration among governmental agencies and NGOs;

- Official AVSI (Italy) partner for international adoptions (since 2004, 167 children have been adopted by Italian families);

- Organizing training, seminars and conferences and preparing methodical publications for social workers, educators, other specialists and interested persons focused on topical issues related to social work, foster care and adoption. These include, among others, work with families, the process of family empowerment, social worker’s motivation, principles and values, building a social net and raising adopted and foster children. Since 2010, 110 social workers from various districts ofLithuania have undergone our training programme which is approved by the Administrative Office of Social Care Institutions at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.

Methodological publications released by SOTAS’ experts on the basis of the accumulated experience:

  • “Educating every child in family and society” (2003)
  • “Family support: experiences of subsidiarity. Prevention of child abandonment inLithuania” (2006)
  • “Improvement of women’s social integration opportunities in the city ofVilnius. Enhancing and promoting work motivation. Good practice project.” (2008)
  • “Why family?” (2008)
  • “Family: a source of problems or a resource? Possibilities for family social support” (2012)

- Participation in international projects aimed at sharing best practices in order to improve local interventions;

- Organizing voluntary work at the Day Care Centre. Currently, a group of approximately 20 volunteers is involved in the activities of the Centre. Considerable attention is paid to the work with volunteers: regular meetings are held to discuss our methods, the meaning of volunteering, difficulties, case studies, theory of social work, etc.

- Giving an opportunity for students of social work and social pedagogy to do internships.

 

Summary of projects:

From 2002 to 2003, SOTAS together with its partners from the Italian AVSI organization implemented the project “Social Reintegration of Children Living in Residential Child Care Institutions” financed by the EU PHARE ACESS Programme. Activities included socio-educational programmes for children and youth, individual work with the families of students at a boarding school in Vilnius, finding, selecting and preparing families who wished to be foster parents, and the provision of seminars for social workers, educators, teachers and other specialists working with children and their families, held by Lithuanian and Italian lectors. All the activities have been continued by integrating the projects funded by Vilnius Municipality (2003-2004, 2004-2006, 2005, 2006, 2011), the State Office for Youth Affairs (2004, 2005, 2007), the Commission for the International Adoptions at the Italian Prime Minister’s Office (2004-2005, 2010-2011, 2012-2013), Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” (2004-2005), and through the assistance of private sponsors.

From 2012 to 2015 SOTAS is engaged in 2 projects funded by the European Social Fund addressing the issue of social exclusion of the following vulnerable groups: young people living in institutional care, young people from families at risk, parents of families at risk, single parents, members of large families, the long-term unemployed and beneficiaries of social assistance. A set of services is being offered, such as psychosocial educational activities, general skills education (including computer literacy classes, Lithuanian and English language lessons, financial literacy classes), experiential therapy (group-based motivation), life skills education (including parenting skills), professional orientation, vocational training, learning skills education, and concrete support in gaining a foothold in the labour market. For one of the projects SOTAS is the lead organization responsible for coordinating the activities of 7 partners.

The projects  “A Way Out for You” (2004-2007) (as a partner of the State Office for Youth Affairs) and “The Improvement of Women’s Social Integration Opportunities in Vilnius” (2006-2008), funded by the European Social Fund were aimed  at helping women to return to the labour market and reducing the discrimination that young women often experience within it, by creating a mechanism of optimal support and social integration.

From 2008 to 2011 SOTAS carried out 4 projects aimed at promoting family values funded by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. Conferences and meetings with family communities and local authorities were organized in various cities and villages inLithuania. The projects encouraged the establishment of active and independent families, based on mutual support and responsibility of their members, and the gathering of families into communities for mutual support and advocacy of their interests.

From 2002 to 2011 SOTAS supervised the AVSI’s “Distance Support Program” for children and youth living in difficult situations in both family settings and institutional care. The priority of the program was social-educational activities with children and youths and satisfying their material needs (clothing, footwear, learning materials, personal hygiene products, food, medicine, etc.).

International cooperation in sharing best practices: “Development of Alternatives to Boarding Institutions in Saint Petersburg” (2009-2010; Russia, Lithuania, Bulgaria; European Commission’s funding), “Non-State Actors and Local Authorities in Development” (2009-2011; Italy, Spain, Portugal, Lithuania, Poland, Romania; European Commission), “Multi-regional partnership for the prevention of early school leaving” (2009-2013; Romania, Italy, Lithuania; European Social Fund), “Improvement of the Quality of Social Services for Children by taking over the Experience of Foreign Countries” (2012-2013; Lithuania, United Kingdom, Austria, Italy; Leonardo da Vinci Mobility Programme).

 

Main sponsors:

- Ministry of Social Security and Labour;

-VilniusCityMunicipality;

- EU funds;

- Commission for the International Adoptions at the Italian Prime Minister’s Office;

- Private sponsors.

 

SOTAS is a member of:

- AVSI Network (over 60 associations and NGOs);

- Konfederacija NVO vaikams (Confederacy NGOs for Children);

- Nacionalinė šeimų ir tėvų asociacija (National Association of Families and Parents);

- Vilniaus arkivyskupijos socialinių katalikiškų iniciatyvų forumas (Vilniaus Archbishopric Social Catholic Initiative Forum).