Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Leaving India and Sri Lanka

After spending two weeks visiting eleven of our affiliated projects in India and Sri Lanka, knowing that the St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel in Khammam was the last home I would be seeing on my trip left me with a bittersweet feeling. India and Sri Lanka are both full of beauty, diverse cultures, and wonderful people who face extreme hardship every day. Sri Lanka has suffered greatly from natural disasters and decades of civil war; India suffers from overpopulation and dire poverty caused by gender inequality and disparities in income.

Despite how difficult it was to see so many people living in desperate conditions there, I had grown fond of both countries. I learned so much about what our amazing volunteer coordinators are doing to educate our sponsored children, and to give them a better chance at living successful lives.

A home for the disabled

The St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel is located in South India in the rice-producing state of Telangana. The Church of South India opened the hostel in the small city of Khammam in 1980 to address the poverty that working-class families in the community faced. The thousands of field workers who plant and harvest rice are paid so little that they live in a state of continuous economic struggle. When the rice crops fail, as they often do during and after periods of drought or flooding, the situation for workers and their families becomes even more desperate. Even in the best of times, the rice workers are often unable to afford to send their children to school.

It was great to see Mr. Rao take so much initiative to provide skill training for the girls so that they will have better employment opportunities later in life.

When we arrived at the home, we were greeted by our Volunteer Coordinator, Mr. Rao, who explained to us that St. Mary’s was once a home for the physically disabled, including blind and deaf students. Unlike so much of India and the developing world, the home was built to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The matron of St. Mary’s, who is wheelchair-bound herself, has no difficulty navigating the walkways between the girls’ dorms, the kitchen, and the recreation rooms, thanks to the original design of the home.

As he showed us around the buildings, Mr. Rao told us that not only do the girls go to school every day, but they also are learning to make bracelets, books, and brooms – all of which are sold to the community to generate additional income to support the home and the girls. Additionally, the home offers computer and clothes-making classes and training for older girls and women who do not live there. In total, there are 27 staff members who teach all of the courses offered, which I thought was quite impressive. It was great to see Mr. Rao take so much initiative to provide skill training for the girls so that they will have better employment opportunities later in life.

Always in need of more funds

The home itself is a lovely facility – the grounds are full of lush, green tropical plants, and there is plenty of room for the girls to play. The hallways are covered with large, colorful pictures and posters of the special people, both Indians and foreigners alike, who have helped fund the work of the St. Mary’s Girls’ Hostel over the years – all of which contributed to the bright and festive atmosphere at the home.

Of the 47 girls between the ages of six and nineteen who are living in the home, forty of them are currently sponsored. Mr. Rao said that there is room for additional children, but they don’t currently have funding to enroll more young women. I realized then, one day before I was to return home, that I had heard this from each of our projects in Sri Lanka and India over the past couple of weeks – I was told by each and every one of them that they could reach even more kids with additional funding.

It was hard to hear that there are children missing out on going to school because of money – something we don’t worry about as much in the United States; but instead of focusing on the negative in my last few hours in this unique part of the world, I thought about how grateful I am for our sponsors, who send thousands of children around the globe to school every year, because they believe as much as we at Children Incorporated do that every child deserves an education.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA or SRI LANKA?

You can sponsor a child in India or 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 sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India or Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.

Getting Clean Water Flowing

A few months ago, we reported on our partnership with the international nonprofit organization Wine To Water, which works to bring clean water solutions to some of the most remote parts of the world. Before Luis Bourdet, our Director of International Programs, and I left for our trip to India in August, I visited the Wine To Water headquarters in Boone, North Carolina, and took a training course on how to use Sawyer water filters, which when used properly, can last for up to ten years.

Children need to be healthy to learn.

A Sawyer water filter provides clean water for up to ten years.

Requiring little maintenance and upkeep, the Sawyer filters were perfect for us to take to India to distribute to our affiliated projects. I could easily fit thirty of them in a suitcase – enough to give three or four to each of our volunteer coordinators in India, so that they could provide clean drinking water for the children in our program, reducing their risk of contracting illnesses such as typhoid or cholera.

Training day

When Luis and I arrived in India, we found that most of our projects, including the Grace Aaron Boarding Home in Bhoorgampahad, had wells on their properties and used groundwater as their source for cleaning and drinking water. In fact, Children Incorporated supporters funded the installation of the well and pump at the Grace Aaron Boarding Home about ten years ago so that the home would have a fresh water source for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. The problem with the groundwater there, however, is that it is not safe to drink, because sewage disposal in the country is ineffective, and wastewater from toilets is fed into the same water system from which well water is pumped.

On our first day in India, four days before we visited the Grace Aaron Boarding Home, where 68 girls in our program live, Luis and I held a training session for all six of our coordinators who work at our affiliated projects in and around Dornakal. I showed them how to properly assemble the Sawyer water filters and how to correctly use them. The filters require two containers – one on which to attach the filter, where the contaminated water is contained, and another for the clean water that comes out of the filter. All of our coordinators were enthusiastic about using the filters, and they were grateful to have them to start using right away at their projects.

Sanitary practices all around

The girls at the Grace Aaron Boarding Home now have clean water, too, which is essential to their well-being.

When we arrived at the Grace Aaron Boarding Home a few days later, our Volunteer Coordinator there, Mrs. Jesintha, had set the filters up in the activity room where the girls practice singing and dancing after school. Now all the girls have access to clean drinking water throughout the day, whenever they want it. As we toured the rest of the home, we saw that the structure had newly-updated bathrooms, which included tile floors and large hand-washing sinks, which are important in good sanitation practice, helping keep the girls healthy so that they can attend school.

On top of receiving nutritious meals every day and having a safe and sanitary place to live, the girls at the Grace Aaron Boarding Home now have clean water, too, which is essential to their well-being. What seemed at first like a small gesture – providing basic, easy-to-use water filters to our projects – I now understand to be a crucial part in providing basic needs to children living in poverty.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN INDIA?

 You can sponsor a child in India in one of three ways: call our office at 1-800-538-5381 and speak with one of our staff members; email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in India that is available for sponsorship.

A Thousand Shoes for a Thousand Kids

As the end of the year approaches, I can say that the Children Incorporated staff as a whole is amazed by what we have accomplished thus far in 2017, thanks to our incredible sponsors and donors. When our President and CEO, Ron Carter, sent out a letter in December of 2016 asking our supporters to help us reach our goal of providing 1,000 pairs of new shoes to sponsored and unsponsored children at our projects in the coming year, we never dreamed the response would be so tremendous.

Just three months after launching our Shoe Fund campaign, our supporters had already donated more than $30,000 to ensure that children in our program in Latin America, Africa, and Asia would receive new shoes. We can’t thank you enough for what you have done for these special young girls and boys.

The importance of shoes

There are a lot of basic needs that children go without on a daily basis – something we understand all too well. Providing basic necessities, like clothing, food, hygiene items, and educational support, to kids is the foundation of our sponsorship program, and we believe that each and every one of these aspects is incredibly important in helping children have a greater chance to succeed in life. So why did Mr. Carter want to focus in particular on getting shoes to kids in need?

“Over the years, we have heard many heartbreaking stories about children who are unable to attend school because they don’t have wearable shoes.”

“Over the years, we have heard many heartbreaking stories about children who are unable to attend school because they don’t have wearable shoes,” says Mr. Carter. “In some cases, children attend school only every other day because they have to share a single pair of shoes with a sibling. We have always made a point of providing good, solid shoes to these children, knowing that shoes can be very expensive. As such, the Children Incorporated Shoe Fund campaign has been one of our most meaningful endeavors.”

1,235 pairs and counting

We are very grateful that our donors understand that items that can sometimes appear small and insignificant can really improve the lives of children. Shoes may not seem like a big deal, but as Mr. Carter stated, it’s sometimes the difference between a child going to school or not.

Because of you, we have provided children at our affiliated projects the Pedro Poveda School, Guarderia El Angel, the Lourdes School, the Santa Clotilde Orphanage, Villa Emilia, the Montero Home, and the Cristo Rey Mission in Bolivia with shoes this year. Thanks to you, children at Hogar Santa Julia and Hogar Santa Maria in Mexico have brand new shoes to wear to school. If it weren’t for you, children at the Dandora Community Center in Kenya, the Rainbow ‘Erdata’ Center in Ethiopia, Chrishanti Lama Sevana in Sri Lanka, La Milagrosa in Costa Rica, and Santa Isabel Ana Seton in Guatemala wouldn’t have received new footwear, either.

To date, we have provided 1,235 pairs of shoes to kids in need, and we will continue distributing shoes in the upcoming months.

Thank you for all that you do to help children – we couldn’t do it without you.

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The Gift of Opportunity

When Luis and I first set foot on the compound of the Wijewardane Children’s Home in Panadura, Sri Lanka, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the house and the property. The gravel driveway was lined with lush green bushes and red and yellow flowers, leading to an equally impressive covered front porch, which had a railing that was lined with wicker chairs.

Luis with Mrs. Peiris outside the home

As we entered the house, I noticed that the inside was just as grand as the outside – the ceiling was high and curved, and the floors were covered in black and white tile. Decorative archways lead into large rooms on both sides and in front of us. I felt as though I had stepped back in time to what homes in the country must have been like many years ago, before the civil war, back when the British still ruled and the country was called by its former name, Ceylon. Come to find out, I wasn’t wrong in my thoughts.

The Wijewardane Children’s Home belongs to the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, an organization that works to promote charitable efforts in Sri Lanka. As we toured the home with our Volunteer Coordinator, Mrs. Nilamani Peiris, she explained that it was built more than 100 years ago and had belonged to a family who decided to leave the estate to the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress in 1965 so it could be used as a home for local children who were abandoned or orphaned. It has had the same mission to help young girls in need ever since then.

It now made sense to me why the home had many intricate details in its design – it had not originally been intended to be used as a group home, but as a private residence for a wealthy family. Although older and in need of some fresh paint and small repairs, the home was in good shape for its age; and although I was impressed by the architecture, I was even more impressed with the idea that this special family had so long ago chosen to donate their home to help children in need so they could have better opportunities in life.

I was even more impressed with the idea that this special family had so long ago chosen to donate their home to help children in need so they could have better opportunities in life.

An excursion for everyone

Earlier that morning, we drove from Colombo along the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka to Panadura. On the way to the home from our hotel, Mrs. Peiris, who first came to the Wijewardane Children’s Home as a manager 22 years ago, told us she had recently taken all the girls on a trip to the capital. Together they visited an art museum and a temple, and had dessert at a hotel. The trip had been possible because three of our sponsored children had received gifts from their sponsors to be used specifically for an excursion.

Mrs. Peiris didn’t want any of the girls to feel left out, so she used money from the home to take all of them with her, and she was excited about how much they enjoyed their time away from the home. Other than to go to school or occasional doctors’ appointments, the girls don’t leave the home often. Although some do have families to return to during holiday breaks from school, many don’t have other homes to go to, which means they rarely leave the compound.

A few of the young girls who live at The Wijewardane Children’s Home

When we arrived at the home about 45 minutes later, the girls were in their rooms preparing a traditional dance for us, which was their way to welcome me and Luis, and show us thanks for the support they receive from their sponsors. It was fun to not only get to see the girls perform the dances that they had worked hard to perfect, but we even had time afterward to take pictures together. The girls were very energetic and sweet, and even though they didn’t speak much English, they communicated their feelings of joy by posing playfully and giggling, dressed in their nicest outfits, which they had worn to honor their guests.

Making ends meet

When we met with Mrs. Peiris after taking pictures with the girls, she mentioned that the government only provides the home with about 600 rupees a month – about four U.S. dollars – for each of the eighteen girls that live there, which does very little to help them. The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress doesn’t provide much support beyond the use of the home, so Mrs. Peiris has to work hard to make ends meet. Sponsorship support from Children Incorporated really helps her to buy hygiene items like toothpaste and soap, and buy food, clothes, and school supplies for the girls.

Despite the difficulties of running the home with few resources, Mrs. Peiris is grateful that she can provide a safe place for the girls to live while they attend local schools, and where they can enjoy activities after school such as dance, patchwork, and sewing classes. The girls also learn weaving, dressmaking, and carpet making. She knows that at least while the girls are growing up, she can make sure they have everything they need, even though once they turn eighteen, they can no longer live at the home or receive government support. At that point, they either have to find employment or move back in with their families, which is not an option for some of them.

When we left the home, I did have concerns myself for these girls’ futures after they finish school, knowing they will have to work hard to make it on their own. But I also felt hopeful for them, because Sri Lanka is a country where although there are many poor people, there is opportunity, whether you have money or not, unlike many other places in the world. Although higher education is competitive, college is free in the country, and there are jobs both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere – many times in the United Kingdom or Australia – for these children once they grow up. And thanks to the loving care of Mrs. Peiris and the gift from a generous family of the Wijewardane Children’s Home, I feel that these girls are getting the chance they need to succeed in life.

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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 sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.

Starting Over After the Tsunami

The tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004, caused by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the island country’s coast, was one of the most devastating disasters ever recorded in the country’s history. The tsunami left tens of thousands dead, and many more, homeless, as well as had widespread effects on the country’s environment and ecosystems. The eastern shore of Sri Lanka faced the hardest impact because it was facing the epicenter of earthquake.

This family’s house was repaired after the tsunami, thanks to  Children Incorporated.

The coastal town of Galle, just two hours south of Colombo, a hotspot for tourists that has a bustling fishing industry, was hit incredibly hard. The tsunami swiftly destroyed an estimated 7,000 houses, most of which were made of wood, leaving many families without homes. The Dadella Children’s Center, located in the center of Galle and only a few hundred feet from the ocean, was submerged in eight feet of water. It took nearly a year for the city to recover after such a large disaster. Many children were orphaned, as more than 6,000 people lost their lives as a result of the tsunami.

 

Helping rebuild after disaster strikes

In the aftermath of the tsunami, Children Incorporated, along with the Dadella Children’s Center, which is run by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Sri Lanka, provided considerable relief and aid through the reconstruction of homes, while also supplying food, clothing, and mattresses to families who lost everything.

The YMCA initiated the process of constructing 25 homes for families whose children attended the Dadella Center, and who had been left homeless after the tsunami. But when they asked the government to provide the land, the government came back with one provision: they would provide the land to build on, but they wanted the YMCA to build fifty homes instead of 25 – but the government was not going to provide additional monetary support.

They have overcome difficult obstacles in their lives, and it was incredible to meet them and see how well they are doing, despite many setbacks and challenges in life.

The YMCA didn’t have enough money to complete all fifty homes; but thankfully, Children Incorporated was able to step in and provide the funds needed to purchase doors and windows, and to finish roofs in order to complete the homes – and twice as many families as originally anticipated were, in fact, given homes. That was over twelve years ago now. Luis Bourdet, our Director of International Programs, however, still clearly remembers visiting Galle and the Dadella Children’s Center when the houses were being built. He recalls going to our sponsored children’s destroyed homes after the tsunami, and seeing that their families were left with no belongings, having to start their lives over with nothing. At least, he thought, they’d have homes to go to.

On our visit to the Dadella Center in August, Luis was pleased to see the same children he had visited with before – but this time, as young teens and adults. Luis greeted a young man whose house had not been entirely lost, but was in dire need of repair after the tsunami. He is grown now, and working as a teacher in a local public school that some of our sponsored children attend.

We met another boy that Luis remembers well, now older and out of our sponsorship program, who lost his father in the tsunami, and spent his childhood in fear because he lived close to water. Children Incorporated helped build a house for him and his mother, and he is now a high school graduate, is currently taking his advanced-level exams, and hopes to go on to college one day.

There were many success stories from the Dadella Children’s Center, and I could tell from Luis’ smile that he was really proud of all the children he was able to visit with again. We were pleased to hear that many of our former sponsored children are working with the center once a week as leaders to the 23 sponsored children currently in our program. They have overcome difficult obstacles in their lives, and it was incredible to meet them and see how well they are doing, despite many setbacks and challenges in life.

Connecting projects

One of 50 homes built by the Dadella Children’s Center after the tsunami

While visiting the center, we were shown around by the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the YMCA, a kind Sri Lankan man named Angus, who has held this position since 1986. He explained that he found out about Children Incorporated many years ago because his cousin is Dr. Rodrigo, our Volunteer Coordinator at the Chrishanti Lama Sevana Center in Colombo. I was glad to see the connection between two wonderful projects, knowing that as a result of that connection, we have been able to help a lot of children in Sri Lanka over the years.

The Dadella Children’s Center is on a large compound, with the playground as its centerpiece. The building itself is three stories tall, with classrooms on the first and second floors. More than 200 children go to the center every day. On the first floor, there is a preschool and daycare center for very young children, and the older children go to the center for after school tutoring programs.

Our sponsored children go once a week for leadership programs and English classes, and they are also provided with food, school uniforms, book bags, food, shoes, and school supplies, thanks to their sponsors. The center is important for children who are living in poverty, and most of them come from nearby villages; visiting the center helps them to keep up with academics, which are extremely competitive in Sri Lanka.

Better homes and better lives

After visiting with the children at the center, we set off to see some of the homes that Children Incorporated had helped build years ago. The houses were located in areas past a vast rice field, in the more rural parts of the town, away from the water – land that had previously been nothing but jungle before the tsunami.

I was impressed by the homes. They had separate bedrooms and kitchens, as well as a living area, and were all on their own piece of land covered in lush greenery. The houses were made of concrete – a much stronger material than the wood used to construct the homes that the families lived in before, which made the structures susceptible to damage from the weather.

It was nice to see that these families now have stability in their lives after all they have been through in the past. For them, the tsunami wasn’t something that happened a long time ago, and it isn’t something they have forgotten about. But they have repaired their lives, and continued to care for their children, having been given the opportunity to start over in a place they can call home.

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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 sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.

A Haven in Colombo

The country of Sri Lanka has always valued the importance of learning, and even more so after gaining their independence from Britain in 1948. Since then, the government has made education a high priority, and it has paid off. The literacy rate is over ninety percent – the highest in all of South Asia – and enrollment in school for both boys and girls is just as high. This is in large part due to the well-developed network of public schools in the country, giving children more opportunities to be educated than many other developing or underdeveloped countries where Children Incorporated works.

Dr. Rodrigo speaks with one of our sponsored children outside the center.

At the Chrishanti Lama Sevana Center in Colombo, poor children living in surrounding neighborhoods are given a place to gather after school to study and learn English, math, Sinhalese, dance, art, and sewing, which not only helps to propel them academically, but it also keeps them off the streets. Although our Volunteer Coordinator at the center, Dr. S.N. Rodrigo, tells us that the neighborhood isn’t unsafe, and that the children are well cared for by their mothers, she feels that it is important that the children have something to do in the afternoons, because there is a drug problem in the area, and she worries that people who don’t have jobs or much to do could negatively influence impressionable children.

Keeping kids off the streets

Knowing that the poor children who lived close to her were at risk was exactly the reason that Dr. Rodrigo started the Chrishanti Lama Sevana Center 35 years ago. She and her husband bought a home in Colombo in the 1970s, when she was still a practicing physician, and her husband was a surgeon. Dr. Rodrigo connected with Children Incorporated in the early 1980s, when our founder, Mrs. Jeanne Clarke Wood, traveled to Sri Lanka to expand our programs in Asia. Dr. Rodrigo and her husband are both retired now, and they fill their time with taking care of the dozens of children that go to the center every day, ranging from six to eighteen years old. 22 of the children who attend are currently enrolled in our program, and six are awaiting sponsorship.

Even though many of our sponsored children come from similar situations where jobs are scarce or low-paying, it was encouraging to hear from Dr. Rodrigo about how motivated the children are to learn.

Dr. Rodrigo picked me and Luis Bourdet, our Director of International Programs, up to take us to the center, and she talked about how when they first moved into the neighborhood, there were many shanties and mud huts, and she would see children running around outside of her home that were unkempt and dirty, and not in school during the day. She first started helping them by providing them with meals; and she eventually found a small hut to use as a home base to meet with them more regularly.

It wasn’t until five or six years ago, after having partnered with the Chrishanti Lama Sevana Center for nearly three decades, that Luis convinced Dr. Rodrigo to let Children Incorporated build a proper center, thanks to a donation from a special sponsor who wanted to support infrastructure at our international projects. Dr. Rodrigo was hesitant at first, being unsure as to whether or not she could handle the work that would go into managing a larger building. But after managing to secure a piece of land from the government, she agreed to the construction; and now the center is a two-story building that offers plenty of room for the children to gather, and space for a certified teacher to work with the children every day after school.

Breaking the cycle of poverty

One of our sponsored children and his proud mother

While we were visiting the center, Dr. Rodrigo introduced us to one of the mothers in the neighborhood who is a former sponsored child. Dr. Rodrigo considers this mother’s story the greatest success story for the center. The mother received support from her sponsor throughout her childhood, and after graduating from high school, she opened a store in her home to sell dry goods, in order to generate money for her family. Her husband drives a tuk tuk (a three-wheeled motorized vehicle used as a taxi) to earn an income, and they have two children. Their daughter is now in our program, and their son graduated a few years ago, after having a sponsor for many years, and is now working towards becoming an engineer.

Thanks to the mother’s sponsorship support growing up, and to the parents’ dual income now, their children have better educational opportunities than they ever had, which has helped this family break the cycle of poverty. What’s more, the mother is giving back to center after so many years of receiving support – Dr. Rodrigo has put her in charge of purchasing items for our sponsored children! She typically buys food, school supplies, soap, toothbrushes, rice, tea, clothing, and shoes, and on a monthly basis, determines which items will best help each individual child in our program.

Motivated to learn

As we continued to meet with our sponsored children throughout the day, we heard stories about how their parents struggle to make ends meet. We met a family who sells fruit at the local schools, but loses their income during the month-long breaks from school that happen three times a year, making it hard to provide for their children. Thanks to sponsorship, the kids receive food when money is especially tight for the parents.

Even though many of our sponsored children come from similar situations where jobs are scarce or low-paying, it was encouraging to hear from Dr. Rodrigo about how motivated the children are to learn. Academics in Sri Lanka are very competitive, and the children work hard to stay on top of their studies. Despite the barriers that poverty creates, many kids aspire to careers beyond just becoming drivers and seamstresses – many of them want to become engineers and doctors, just like Dr. Rodrigo and her husband.

Children dream big in Sri Lanka, and even though they face many challenges, they have opportunities to excel, thanks to places like the Chrishanti Lama Sevana Center, which help prepare them for the future. In Sri Lanka, the possibilities for success are real, and our sponsored children are reaching for their goals.

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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 sponsorship@children-inc.org; or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Sri Lanka that is available for sponsorship.