My Service in Sri Lanka
by Hettie Briscoe
I have been in Sri Lanka now for nearly three weeks, and on the east coast for two and a half weeks. I have visited a number of children's homes but have only stayed in two to date. The two homes were very different. I will tell you a little about the routines in each of them so that you have an indication of what volunteers might reasonably expect.
The first home I stayed in, Bethel Arudpany Girls Home, is a Christian girls home. There are 27 girls and pastor Puvanendran's family including his wife, three boys and a girl. The pastor has effectively adopted all the girls, and consequently I found they had much more freedom that the girls in the other homes. They are all living in the church buildings as the home was mostly destroyed by the Tsunami. This is a temporary measure. The church buildings are not nearly large enough for them all. The pastor, his wife and one cook take care of everything for the girls, as after the tsunami the pastor had to send away the other workers because he could not afford them.
I slept on a bed with two of the older girls. The children were dotted around the rooms, on floors and beds, as were the pastor and his wife. They woke at around 5.30am to pray, wash, and eat before school. I confess I slept in a little, to 6.00 or 6.30am as I was in a little room which the majority of the children did not frequent. In the morning most of the children were at school so the house was relatively peaceful. I helped a few of the elder girls and the pastor's son with some English work and tried to assist the pastor in working his computer, to write a report for him on the home to publish on the Internet (in the hope of receiving donations) and by going down to the Internet café to help him send an email to a possible donator.
Since getting my motorbike I tend to leave the homes for a little in the morning in order to go to town and buy fresh produce to give them, rather than giving money for my keep. When the children returned from school, after eating and sometimes after a little siesta I would play with those children who were not in extra classes, in the late afternoon I often went down to the beach to play frisbee and chase etc, with the older girls. The whole time as I go, speaking a little English for their benefit, and picking up a little Tamil for mine.
The Pastor speaks good English but the children know very little. One day I gave the girls crayons and paper, supplied by the Trust, in order to draw their memories and thoughts of the tsunami, as a healing exercise for them and because we are hoping the drawings might raise money for the homes. The particularly evocative ones are being sent to London and New York where they have been arousing a considerable amount of interest.
I ate with the pastor and his wife at a table. The other girls were again dotted around. No one room was big enough for them all to eat. I washed in a bathroom indoors. The girls had showers outside by the well.
After I think four nights at Arudpany I returned to our field Office in Batticaloa, where I brought Patrick and Dinah up to date on the condition and needs of the home.
The second home I stayed at was Yogaswami Hindu Girls Home in Sittandy north of Batticaloa, a Hindu girls' home with 38 girls, one matron, two cooks and one clerk, none of whom speak English beyond a very basic level. I slept on the floor with the girls, and consequently woke and got up with them at 5.00 am.
Rather dazed I would drink ginger tea as they washed, worked, prayed, swept and did other chores before school. I was left in the mornings with the matron, clerk and cook, who were all lovely. Again we took to teaching each other Tamil and English respectively. I went daily into the local town to buy fruit for the home and water for me -- the village that the home was in did not sell bottled water.
The girls had a much more regimented and structured life than at the Christian Home. This is possibly because the pastor's family had been uprooted by the tsunami. When they returned from school they had a variety of chores, extra lessons, homework, and prayer time filling up their day. I encouraged them to play as much as possible. On the Sunday three other English volunteers who are staying in Christian homes in Batticaloa came out to the home for the day. We spent the afternoon teaching them various games, dances and English songs. It was a lot of fun for the children and the volunteers.
I ate the same food as the children, but separate from them, in the room where they both slept and studied. I washed in an outside bathroom, which the older girls used sometimes. Most of the girls washed by the well, whilst the smaller ones washed under the waist high taps outside.
In both homes I was looked after very well. Despite the girls being in temporary accommodation, and despite their having been through a lot of upheaval, in the first home, and even though the girls at the Yogaswami Hindu Girls Home were in need of more toilets, bathrooms, a study hall etc, there are homes considerably worse off. On my way back to Batticaloa from Yoga Swami.
I briefly visited a Christian girls' home which we did not previously know of. Though the sister I spoke to knows only a little English I learnt that there were 80 girls living there, and only 3 outdoor toilets, and two small wells for washing. The one cook cooked in a small kitchen, on an open hearth. There was a problem with the water tank, and there was a considerable amount of water on the kitchen floor. The girls' belongings were kept in cardboard boxes. I intend to go back there to stay for a few nights next week, so that I can learn more about the home, its routine, and requirements.