By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Vijayakumaratharun, who is 10, says that what makes him most sad is seeing his mother cry. It hasn’t been an easy life for Ithayakala, 34, who was abandoned by her husband when her son was very small.
Living in a rural village in the Batticaloa district of Sri Lanka and with little education, her livelihood came from selling the vegetables she grew in her small home garden, plus doing odd jobs and working in rice paddies, seasonal work. But when Vijayakumaratharun was sponsored three years ago through ChildFund New Zealand, one of ChildFund International’s Alliance partners, his mother saw a ray of hope.
“Things have changed for us now,” Ithayakala says. Although she still struggles to make enough money, the strain has decreased. “Almost all of his educational expenses are covered thanks to sponsorship,” she adds.
In addition to his sponsorship, Vijayakumaratharun and his mother have three goats and three cows. Ithayakala sells surplus milk, which supplements their income.
Ithyakala has had the opportunity to participate in ChildFund’s nutrition program, where she learned about growing and cooking nutritious foods for her son. Now, she is a leader and teaches other mothers the same skills. She has also benefited from child protection programs organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka for the community.
Vijayakumaratharun shares with us a photograph and letters he has received from his sponsor in New Zealand. The kea, he points out from a card with several animals from New Zealand, is his favorite. “I want to thank her for all the greeting cards and letters she has sent me. I have learnt new things about her family in New Zealand and about the animals there.”
In October, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work, as well as the importance of nutrition and agriculture.
By Himangi Jayasundera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
“Soap and water, scrub, scrub, scrub,” hums Sashini as she washes her hands.
Like many of her friends, the 11-year-old did not bother too much with washing her hands properly before. Sometimes she and her friends would come home after playing outside or helping with paddy cultivation and wash their hands a little with water to get the mud and dust off. But now things have changed with a program organized by ChildFund Sri Lanka to promote proper hand washing, especially before meals.
Sashini was among 90 children age 6 to 14 who participated in the hand-washing program conducted at Mayurapada Kanishta Vidyalaya, a school in the Polonnaruwa district in north central Sri Lanka.
“We teach children about the importance of washing their hands, especially before meals,” says K.M. Chandralatha, a teacher. “But it happens within the classroom. This program was a practical experience in correct hand washing, and I think many of them got first-hand experience on the proper way to do it.”
Access to clean water is crucial for hand washing and other good hygienic practices.
The program commenced with an introduction to hand-washing day, followed by a practical demonstration by a science teacher, illustrating how harmful bacteria can be neutralized with the use of soap and water.
A midwife who works in public health taught the children good hand-washing techniques. “We talk regularly with parents on this subject, but we rarely get an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of hand washing,” says H.M. Chamali Piyaratne, the midwife. “It was a good experience, and I look forward to doing more sessions with children.”
Sashini adds that the program has helped many of her friends, who have in turn taught their younger siblings about proper hand-washing techniques.
“We were never taught to wash our hands like this before,” she says. “The experience of doing it with clear instructions has taught us how important it is.”
To further assist and promote hand washing and good hygiene among children, ChildFund Sri Lanka also provided two sinks to Sashini’s school.
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.”