George Arvay and SOS Children’s Villages

by Archie McKee
George Arvay
George Arvay,  past president and oftentimes board member of the Sarasota, Florida, chapter of USCPFA, has led a hard and most rewarding, but complicated life.  Born in 1919, he has been an orphan, homeless (not recently), a businessman, painter, mechanic, dance instructor, musician, singer, entertainer, and a motorcycle racer.  He corresponds in four languages and has traveled extensively.  He is married to a beautiful Belgian lady, his wife of 29 years, Lucienne, who also is an active Sarasota member of USCPFA.

In 1974, George, with George Lee and several others were involved with organizing the Chicago chapter of USCPFA, the first.

George grew up as an orphan in Hungary.  He left Hungary and traveled to Yugoslavia, then escaped Yugoslavia in 1952 as a refugee, and emigrated to the US in 1954.  As an orphan with a large heart, George looked for and finally found an organization he found worthy.  In 1972 he was introduced to SOS Children’s Villages while on a trip to Austria.

SOS was founded in 1949 by Dr. Hermann Gmeiner.  Today worldwide there are 80,000 children living in 500 SOS Villages in 132 countries.

An SOS Village consists of 15-20 separate houses in a larger compound.  Each village is supervised by a village director.  Inside the village, each house is supervised by a house mother.  The houses are built with shared bedrooms that accommodate two or more children.  The house may also have shared social areas such as a kitchen, TV room and laundry depending on the local situation.  Children are accepted as babies into the system and grow up in conditions very similar to those found in a normal family setting.  No siblings are separated, and each house usually has several different aged groups living in it.  The older children are encouraged to assist with the younger ones just as in the case of a working family.  Each village itself has several central buildings that may accommodate schools, social activities, clinics, or others.

SOS worldwide also offers SOS youth facilities, kindergartens, schools (185), vocational training centers, medical centers, and emergency relief programs.

Figure 2
In 1984, shortly after moving to Florida, George and his wife Lucienne hosted Minister Councilor Wang Zicheng through a USCPFA event.  During his stay with the Arvays, Minister Wang was shown an SOS film.  The Minister was quite interested and impressed with SOS and its methods of operation.  Two months after his return to China, the minister issued an invitation to George to come to China and negotiate with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (fig 2) for the establishment of SOS in China.  Two weeks after George arrived, details had been worked out and Dr. Gmeiner and an SOS delegation arrived from Europe to sign the formal agreement.  (fig 3)  Three years later (1987) both of the first SOS Villages were fully operational.

Figure 3
The efficiency of the Chinese surprised the SOS delegation.  The Chinese already had two villages planned with architectural renderings, lot plans, and even the foundation stones prepared.  The result from this initial trip: one SOS Village was established in Tianjin, the other in Yantai.  Today SOS in China has expanded greatly: there are ten SOS Villages, nine SOS Youth Facilities, ten SOS Kindergartens, one SOS Dr. Gmeiner School, two Social Centers, and three SOS Vocational Training Centers.  From one man’s hard and dedicated work, great things can grow and flourish.

The SOS Dr. Gmeiner School in Yantai, now has over 3,000 pupils and is the biggest school built by SOS Children's Villages worldwide. It enjoys model school status and belongs to the highest level of schools in China. The SOS Vocational Training Centre in Qiqihar became operational in October 1996. Here 500 students study practical courses which prepare them for their professional life.  The opening of SOS’s Village in Lhasa in 2001, the first SOS Village in the autonomous region of Tibet was a special event. At the time over 3,000 orphans were registered in Tibet.

George with the Children
In 1987 George was invited to China to visit the official opening of the SOS Villages in Tianjin and Yantai.  The picture that accompanies this article (fig 4) shows George talking to young people at that time.  He was met by and hosted by national and local officials and of course SOS staff.

In 2005 a delegation from Sarasota visiting through the USCPFA national Friendship Through The Arts visited the Beijing SOS China headquarters and was well received.

SOS International can be found at and there is a great deal of information located there.  If you click on “Where we help” on the front page, a map of China can be accessed, with each location identified.  Clicking on the location in the map presents several pictures and a summary of the programs at each location.

From the dedication and hard work started by one man’s vision, SOS China was established and expanded, and today serves a large number of needy youth.  The establishment of SOS China serves as a great accomplishment in itself, in addition to the many other things that George Arvay has accomplished in his full and rich life.  The Sarasota Chapter is honored to have George as a leader and long time member.

The SOS US operation is at 1200 G. Street NW, #550, Washington, DC 2005.  Their website is

Fig 1.  George Arvay

Fig 2.  Beijing, 1984.  Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs delegation that worked on formal agreement with SOS International represented by Mr. George Arvay.

Fig 3.  Beijing, 1984.  Formal signing of the agreement between China and SOS International.  From l-r
Mr. Wang Qingzheng, Mr. Wang Zicheng (Chinese initiator for SOS China) Mr. Tang Yi-Zhi, Mme. Vice Minister Zhang Ming, Mr. George Arvay (SOS China co-initiator), Mr. Cui Nai Fu, Minister of Civil Affairs shaking hands with Dr. Hermann Gmeiner (founder of SOS), Dr. Wolte (Austrian Amb to China), Mr Helmut Kutin (Chair, SOS Int’l), and Mr. Hanzheinz Reinprecht (Gen Secty, SOS).

Fig 4. Yantai, 1987.  Visiting with Children at the formal opening of a fully operational SOS Children’s Village at Yantai, Shandong Province, in 1987.