Children of Pandiruppu Have Something to Smile About

Vidurshini (above at right) and Sathusan (below at right) now have something to look forward to each day.

Visions of Hope project gives new meaning to the lives of tsunami-affected children of Pandiruppu

(Courtesy: The Sunday Times (Colombo) of 24 February 2008)

Vidurshani, 12, fights back the tears as she speaks of that awful morning when the sea erupted in anger. The black waters churned around her and her little brother and sister as their father lifted them to safety atop a garden wall. The next terrible wave demolished the wall, and never again after that did she see her father, or brother, or little sister alive.

Vidurshani remembers clinging to life atop a window until the violent waters finally receded. Now she and her mother alone remain to comfort one another.

Sathusan, 12, at least still has his mother and father. But he lost all four of his young brothers and sisters. Even three years later, tears well up whenever he thinks of them.

These are only two stories of surviving children of Pandiruppu, a village where 1,711 neighbors-mostly women and children-perished that morning in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Everyone there lost friends. Whole families were swallowed up.

Empowering

Even before the Tsunami, women of Pandiruppu had organized themselves into a self-help group, calling themselves 'Nava Shakti'. The name was aptly chosen, for nava shakti in Sanskrit means not only 'Nine Goddesses' (who join together) but also 'New Power'. By working together they discovered a new-found power to change the course of their own lives and that of their children.

In the wake of the Tsunami, the society swung into action and organized an after-school program for the most traumatized children, whose emotional balance had been unhinged by the catastrophe, especially with the loss of family members.

Meanwhile in faroff Canada, Kiwanis service clubs of EC&C Division 18, wanting to assist Tsunami affected children of Sri Lanka, contacted the Kiwanis Club of Colombo City. The Sri Lanka Children's Trust proposed a joint project to help Nava Shakti, whose members had been struggling without any external support whatsoever. Soon other project partners joined, including notably Knorr-Bremse Global Care of Germany, the City of Munich, Llanwrtyd Wells Tsunami Appeal of the UK, and recently Calhoun School of New York.

Called 'Visions of Hope', the project was undertaken as a lasting commitment to endure until the smallest children become responsible and employable young adults.

With Kiwanis support, the Project acquired a ruined building in the heart of the children's neighborhood. Knorr-Bremse Global Care then funded its complete refurbishment as the Visions of Hope Children's Center that opened in August 2006. Other partners support ongoing activities for children, while students of Calhoun School, New York, are raising money to construct a new classroom that will host classes in visual and performing arts.

Today with support from Kiwanis Clubs and the Sri Lanka Children's Trust, Nava Shakti provides 85 children age 4-15 with free tutoring programs, daily fruit & milk, computer education, educational tours and, especially, hope for their future. These children were not orphaned; all reside closeby and stay with their parents or legal guardians at night.

Visions of Hope Project is administered by the Sri Lanka Children's Trust, a local NGO working to improve health, sanitation, nutrition, and education for children affected by poverty, conflict, disabilities, or natural disaster.

From preschool teaching assistants up to administrators who monitor activities and report back to project partners, Visions of Hope Project is in the hands of volunteers who serve at the grassroots level. Most are from Pandiruppu, but foreign volunteer teachers from the United Kingdom, Canada, and India also serve there regularly.

The Project's nutritional program focuses not upon providing basic daily calorie intake (since children get that at home), but rather upon addressing nutritional deficiencies in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Nava Shakti children get a daily snack or nutritional boost including fresh cow's milk, fresh fruit, dates, and boiled legumes (like mung, black-eyed peas, and chick peas).

Synergy

Among other benefits besides nutrition and education, Nava Shakti children also get daily one hour of Synergy co-counseling. That is, young women trained in conflict and disaster rehabilitation techniques for children conduct daily play therapy activities for one hour, so disturbed children like Vidurshani and Sathusan may regain their childhood and live happily again.

Computer literacy is a new concept in rural areas. Yet already there is consensus among children, parents, educators and government officials alike that computer literacy is desirable and achievable. Nava Shakti children now get weekly computer instruction at a nearby community center. Administrators intend to convert a classroom into a computer lab so older children can spend much more time mastering computer related skills, including English.

Tour

Another Project aim was to conduct annual educational field trips. Few of these children had ever traveled outside of the east coast before or since the Tsunami.

After weeks of preparation, last August 12 teachers and parents accompanied 40 children on a bus tour of the Hill Country. Covering 600 km in three days, they saw Victoria Dam, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Peradeniya University campus, Devon Falls, Hakgala Botanical Garden, tea estates, and other marvels that folks in coastal regions seldom get to see.

Under able direction from Colombo Kiwanis Club President Daya Ratnayake and UK homepath Dinah Barton, Visions of Hope Center has come up since its difficult early days. The Project flourishes while other rehabilitation projects flounder and fall short of their objectives, because it keeps adjusting to the children's needs as they grow and society changes around them.

Vidurshani, Sathusan, and scores of their neighborhood friends seldom miss a day together at Nava Shakti. They always have something to look forward to in their day, thanks to a network of volunteers and donors stretching from Pandiruppu to distant foreign lands.

Knorr-Bremse Global Care e.V.
Global Care