By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
As we conclude our 75th anniversary blog series, we are focusing on success stories of youth and alumni from ChildFund’s programs in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. Today’s subject is Kasun, a young man who lives in Sri Lanka.
Eighteen-year-old Kasun remembers a time when he was struggling to keep his eyes open, trying to finish his schoolwork after working late at his neighborhood diner. He had only a precious few hours of sleep before waking up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the diner’s breakfast rush.
After his mother died and his father abandoned him and his two sisters, life was not easy for the Sri Lankan teen. But he continued to work hard at school and tried to earn some money by working at night.
Being sponsored through ChildFund, though, gave Kasun support and the feeling that he was not completely alone as he continued to receive assistance for his education.
“I struggled through many obstacles to sit the GCE Ordinary Level Examination,” an exam secondary-school students take in Sri Lanka, Kasun says. “When I learnt that I had not passed the exam, I was so disappointed. I thought that was the end of the road for me.”
But an opportunity to attend a Vision Camp event organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka made Kasun realize that there were other opportunities available to him and that failing his exam was not the end of the world. Gradually his disappointment turned to hope. He was drawn by the many opportunities and ideas shared at the event and became interested in taking up a career in hospitality.
“I was so happy the day ChildFund Sri Lanka offered me training in the hotel trade,” Kasun says. He enrolled in a fully paid four-month vocational training program at Swiss Lanka Hotel School. “I finally felt that my life had a purpose,” he says.
While taking the course Kasun also began working as a trainee at South Beach Resort in the beach town of Galle. Upon successfully completing the course, Kasun now works at South Beach Resort as an assistant cook.
“The guidance I received was timely and invaluable, and I feel that I have chosen a vocation that I enjoy and in which I can succeed,” he says, smiling.
As you may have noticed during the past few months, we have encouraged ChildFund supporters to purchase bikes as part of our Dream Bikes program. Girls in Sri Lanka and India face long walks to school, as well as attendant danger and exhaustion. Bicycles make a real difference.
And now, 1,000 girls will have their wheels, thanks to the generosity of our donors. We cannot thank you enough. We could not be prouder of everyone that contributed to this campaign, which began in September. Together, we raised enough money to provide 1,000 girls with bikes in less than 140 days. That’s about seven bikes a day!
Maybe you clicked onto our website and saw the video of Hirabai on her bicycle. Or you were scanning through Facebook and saw our posts about Dream Bikes on Giving Tuesday in December. However you found out about our Dream Bike campaign, we are so happy that you did — and that you took action to help a girl stay in school.
Thank you to everyone who helped us to reach our goal in record time, but more importantly, thank you for changing 1,000 girls’ lives and giving them the opportunity to finish their education, which they might have had to otherwise forego.
If you missed our Dream Bikes campaign, don’t worry. You can still contribute $100 and help change a life. Because you know what’s better than giving 1,000 bicycles? Giving 2,000!
To commemorate ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we invited the leaders of each of the 12 ChildFund Alliance member groups to reflect on the past and future of their own organizations and the Alliance. Today, we hear from Japan.
Love reaches beyond national borders, as we know. In 1948, 65 years ago, when our grandparents were in their youth, Christian Children’s Fund (then known as China’s Children Fund) began assisting children in Japan, where postwar confusion continued. The situation of child-care institutions in Japan at that time was desperately severe. Most of the institutions could not provide children with nutritious food or clothes.
From Postwar Beginnings
The 1940s was a very difficult decade for Japan. There was World War II, and at its end in 1945, the country was in ruins. Many children lost their guardians and relatives. They were literally children living in the streets. CCF brought the love of people in the United States to these destitute Japanese children. CCF demonstrated that love can reach beyond international borders and save suffering children.
The Christian Child Welfare Association was established in 1952 with management assistance from CCF. One piece in a book called “Love Beyond the Frontier” about CCWA’s history attracted my attention. It was written by the director of a child care institution taking care of war orphans after World War II:
“In September of 1949, I received a notice that my institution would soon receive the first subsidy from CCF. Under the very difficult situation which we were in, this was a blessing shower from God. All the workers together with children, remembering sponsors of U.S., offered thanks giving prayers to God. With this donation, we were able to provide children with supplemental food, additional clothes and educational materials.”
Assistance for Japan Meaningful in Several Ways
Japan was among the first recipients of CCF’s assistance. Moreover, ChildFund Japan is the first country office that became independent from Christian Children’s Fund in 1974, and in 1975, we started assisting marginalized children in the Philippines.
In 2005, we made an important decision to disunite from the Christian Child Welfare Association to focus on international development cooperation, although CCWA continues to serve children here in Japan. At that time, we joined the ChildFund Alliance as the 12th member organization. We were able to expand our assistance to children in Sri Lanka in 2006 in collaboration with ChildFund International, and in 2010, we began assisting children in Nepal through the sponsorship program.
As I look back, ChildFund Japan indeed demonstrates love beyond frontiers. Love that reaches beyond national borders is essential for assisting children in need around the world.
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Senior Writer
Giving Tuesday is a day dedicated to giving back.
And today, we will be doing our part by trying to reach a goal of providing bicycles to 1,000 girls who live in rural villages in Sri Lanka and India — so they can continue their path toward education and economic independence.
In developing countries the world over, girls are up at the crack of dawn, getting ready to leave for school. They have to be, because their morning ritual includes a long, long walk — two miles, three miles or more.
A Year Ago
In Sri Lanka, Sanuja’s trek to school is a gravel road through a deep wilderness, especially scary in the dark. But she has no choice if she is to take advantage of the evening classes her school offers to help children make up ground lost while Sri Lanka’s schools were closed during the recent civil conflict. So, Sanuja leaves the class early or skips it entirely to be home before dark.
In rural India, snakes or scorpions often block Shakuntala’s path to school. Sometimes streams rush down from the hillsides and across the way during the monsoons. Her classmate Hirabai once faced a pack of wild boars.
Both girls remember stopping to help friends who had hurt themselves on the poorly maintained roads, and being late for it. At their school, when anyone is late for any reason, they are made to stand outside of class for an hour.
Sanuja’s attendance at school and her special classes is now regular and punctual, and her grades have improved dramatically — with the gift of a Dream Bike.
Shakuntala, who wants to become a teacher and support her widowed mother, and Hirabai, who aspires to be a police officer, feel much more confident that they’ll be able to achieve their dreams, thanks to the gift of a Dream Bike.
As we focus on giving gifts during the holiday season, consider the girls of India and Sri Lanka who could live happier lives with greater educational and job opportunities, better health and economic freedom. Donate a Dream Bike.
By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
ChildFund Sri Lanka celebrated the 75th anniversary of ChildFund International by taking 175 children to an amusement and water park. It was a day of fun rides and water slides for these children, who came from 11 districts where ChildFund works in Sri Lanka.
The celebrations commenced with a video screening of a message from ChildFund CEO and President Anne Goddard, followed by speeches from Eleanor Loudon, Sri Lanka’s national director, and short speeches by three participating children, who aired their opinions on education, child protection and what they would do if they were the leader of their country.
A highlight of the day was the launch of Listening to the Voices of Children, a report on the ideas and aspirations of children based on a survey of 1,000 children in 11 districts. The children who went to the amusement park were selected in a lottery from those who participated in the survey.
Other highlights included the cutting of the big 75th anniversary cake, distribution of gifts and a group photo.
“It has been a great day,” said Isuru, 12. “I especially liked the water slides, and we went on many rides. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun.”
By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
We asked community members in our ChildFund program areas as well as staff in the Sri Lanka office to share bits of advice that their mothers gave them when they were children – advice that they still value and want to pass on to their own children. Here’s a sampling of what they shared. Happy Mother’s Day!
Community Members Share Wisdom From Their Mothers
“Not every bad thing that happens to you is bad. Sometimes they happen for good.” – Rathnamalala
“Even the god worships good people.”– Deepangani
“A person who walks on others’ footprints never sees his own footprint.” – Airangani
ChildFund Sri Lanka Staff Recall Their Mothers’ Advice
“Listen to your elders. They have plenty of experience in life.” – Kaushalya
“Try to manage within whatever you have.” – Dilrukshi
“Don’t try to change others; change yourself.”
“Be a blessing to others.”
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.
Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.
Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.
Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.
Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.
This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.
The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.
The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.
After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.
“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”
By Danielle Roth, ChildFund Program Officer-Youth Programs
There is one issue on the minds of many Americans these days (myself included). In one word, it’s the economy. Many of us are trying to make it work in this difficult financial climate. Some of us are looking for jobs, others are working two and everyone is hoping for some forthcoming solutions to our financial woes.
During my recent trip to Sri Lanka, I learned that those same worries are weighing on youth in the beautiful island nation. Youth account for approximately 26 percent of Sri Lanka’s populace, and those who are old enough, and out of school, are looking for work. The unemployment rate among youth in Sri Lanka is 17 percent. If you’re a woman there, that number goes up 11 points to 28 percent. Youth employment has become a focus area for the government of Sri Lanka, and ChildFund is providing support programs in this area.
There is significant breadth and depth to ChildFund Sri Lanka’s work around youth employment. Career guidance centers are serving as focal points for youth to learn about job opportunities. We’re also facilitating visits to places of employment so that young men and women gain exposure to different work environments.
Vision camps are helping youth develop a plan for their future that integrates their work and personal preferences. Youth are also learning entrepreneurial skills, participating in job placement programs and gaining practical life skills training that will serve them well as productive members of the workforce. Youth clubs are providing young people with hands-on leadership skills as they develop and administer projects that benefit their communities.
ChildFund is working to educate and empower youth in Sri Lanka to make decisions that ultimately will improve their futures, enabling them to contribute positively and productively to their country.
As humans sharing the globe, we are all connected in some way. Sri Lankans and Americans are both experiencing feelings of frustration in the job market and tentative excitement about new opportunities. We’re all looking to make a difference for ourselves, our families and society.
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Guns have been silenced. Instead of soldiers and guerrillas battling one another, farmers are fighting to rebuild their lives beneath the scorching sun. Land that was once overgrown and strewn with landmines is today lush with golden paddy and green crops. Life has changed for the better in the Poonakari area of Sri Lanka’s northern Kilinochchi district, which bore the brunt of a 30-year war between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The violence claimed thousands of lives and displaced even more from their homes. During the final stages of the war, hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict were sheltered in camps. They remained there for months after the war ended in May 2009, depending on aid provided by the government, the United Nations and NGOs.
When the resettlement process started and people began moving back to their villages, they faced the dilemma of rebuilding their livelihoods. The fierce battle had severely damaged everything. Agricultural assets and livestock were devastated. The population continued to depend on assistance for the basic necessities of life. Knowing the outside aid would soon end, families were increasingly worried about food security. Most of the children were undernourished due to the inability of their parents to provide enough food.
Working with UN agencies and NGOs, the government designed a Joint Plan of Assistance for all humanitarian and resettlement efforts in Sri Lanka’s north. Aligning with this plan, ChildFund started implementing an agriculture rehabilitation project to rebuild livelihoods and ensure food security of returnees to Poonakari and neighboring Kandawalai. The project provided 1,650 small farmers with water pump sets to resume cultivation of irrigated rice paddies, other field crops and small-scale commercial vegetable cultivation.
The most vulnerable households (women-headed, high number of children and children with disabilities) were the first to receive the pumps. Local farmers also received training in crop planning, pest control and water management to effectively farm their land. ChildFund also distributed seeds and trained community mobilizers to frequently visit and connect with the farmers to provide support.
For most of the farmers, waiting on that first crop to mature was worth it—they received a good yield. In addition to providing their children and the whole family with nutritious food, the surplus crop brought a good income to the family.
Today, many families have reduced the dependency on dry rations and reached self-sufficiency through good farming practices. They have increased their income and are better able to meet needs of their families.
With savings from their successful crops, some families have started a second income-generating enterprise such as raising poultry or starting small businesses. They’re also saving the cost of buying seeds to plant next season by employing the technical knowledge received at the training on how to select and store seeds from the harvest.
Because of the increased income and reduced expenses on food items, families have increased spending on their children’s education. They are now able to send their children to schools in towns and to supplementary classes.
Pushparani is a beneficiary of the program. She lost her husband during the war, and now she and her son live with her parents. “With the support from the project, I was able to start cultivating paddy and vegetable. This was a great thing as I didn’t have a proper source of income. I earned about Rs. 69,000 (US$530) selling the harvest last time. I used it for food, to construct a well, start a small poultry farm and my child’s education. I feel that I have been highly benefited from the project.”
Peace has brought a new purpose to families in northern Sri Lanka.