I first met Reverend Eardley L. Mendis in the winter of 2019 in Chicago, Illinois at a Children Incorporated meet-and-greet hosted by our CEO and President, Ron Carter, and myself.
A long-time donor, Rev. Mendis arrived at the gathering — despite the freezing temperatures and snow-covered streets — holding a small photo album containing pictures of the Senehasa Children’s Home in Sri Lanka that he ran along with his wife in the 1970s and 80s.
As I flipped through his pictures, Rev. Mendis told me about meeting our founder, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, at the home, and how much her support — and that of the Children Incorporated sponsorship program — meant to the children in the community.
After our meeting, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reverend Mendis to find out more about Senehasa, which means ‘affection’ in Sinhalese, and the impact it had on children living in poverty in Sri Lanka.
SC: How did you get involved with the Senehasa Home?
In 1979, my wife and I started to serve children in the neighborhood where we lived twelve miles south of the city of Galle in a town called Gonapinuwala. At the time, I was serving as a parish pastor in the Anglican Church in Galle.
“Thanks to the support from Children Incorporated sponsors, we were able to provide more food to children, employ additional staff and improve the buildings.”
Our work began when church members would tell me about malnourished children who lived nearby who they knew were not going to school. We thought that offering them a place to stay — and food — was a good way to help.
SC: What can you tell us about the home?
EM: It was actually two projects — one was a children’s home, and the other was a daycare center. We owned the property, and there was a building that needed to be put into use. We converted it to meet the needs of the children.
The children would arrive around 8 a.m. and would get a morning snack and lunch and then another meal before they went home because there was very little food for them to eat in the evenings. Other children lived in the dormitories all year long.
SC: What year did you first get involved with Children Incorporated?
EM: In 1981. A German national was on vacation in Hikkaduwa, a town just a few miles away from Gonapinuwala with a lovely beach and tourist hotels. While he was there, he heard about the Senehasa Children’s Home and came to meet us.
During the visit, he told me about Children Incorporated. He was a sponsor, and he said he was going to go back to Germany and write Mrs. Wood a letter recommending that we work together.
A few months later, I received a letter from Mrs. Wood saying that she wanted to include the children in our home in her sponsorship program. So we partnered with Children Incorporated even before Mrs. Wood had visited Sri Lanka. It was very important for us to have her support at the time — at first, my wife and I were paying all the expenses ourselves to take care of the children in the home, but after some time it had become too much for us to do on our own.
SC: That is amazing! When did you first meet Mrs. Wood?
EM: She came to the home a few years later, in early 1983. And then I had a chance to go to Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 1983 and visit the office. At the time, Children Incorporated worked out of Mrs. Wood’s home. I had a wonderful time talking to the staff about our program in Sri Lanka.
SC: How many years did you partner with Children Incorporated?
EM: I moved to Chicago in 1987 to pursue my doctoral studies. My wife stayed in Sri Lanka and continued to run the home. Unfortunately, the second Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurrection began the same year and violence and conflict erupted in the country. In 1988, I moved my family to the United States so they would be safe, and in 1989, I closed the home.
“I always knew — and still know now — that with Children Incorporated, the children are the primary focus and I have seen and experienced it for myself.
SC: That is very sad. Is the home still there today?
EM: Yes, it is. Today, it is being taken care of by local staff and used for community events. There are meetings and groups that use it for retreats. We still own the property, and both the land and the buildings are still being used.
SC: That is nice to hear. how did you feel that the Children Incorporated program affected the children at the home during the years it was in operation?
EM: Thanks to the support from Children Incorporated sponsors, we were able to provide more food to children, employ additional staff and improve the buildings. Donations also helped us have play equipment on the grounds.
More than just the material items, sponsorship gave the children a feeling that they were a part of a global village — a global family. It gave them a sense of belonging, and the sponsors brought a lot of joy to the children through their letters and pictures.
It is a great thing. The program is excellent for serving the welfare of children.
I always knew — and still know now — that with Children Incorporated, the children are the primary focus, and I have seen and experienced it for myself.
SC: Thank you so much for your time. Could you please tell us a little more about your life in Chicago currently?
EM: You are welcome. Yes, today I am part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serve a multi-cultural church in Logan Square. Our primary outreach is for the homeless population, and we provide winter clothes and food for all who enter our doors.
I also continue to be a Children Incorporated donor today — I do what I can, and I am grateful to have seen for myself what donations to Children Incorporated is doing for those in need.
HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN SRI LANKA?
You can sponsor a child in Sri Lanka in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at email@example.com; or go online to our sponsorship portal, create an account, and search for a child in Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.