Monday, February 25, 2008

One of our visits today was to a preschool in Galle, which is funded by CCF’s ChildFund Alliance partner, Taiwan Fund for Children and Families.

A group of young children gathered near the doorway ready to bust out at any minute. They reached their arms out with paper chain necklaces they had made for Anne (pictured above) and I as gifts – not unlike the paper chains children sometimes make for Christmas trees in the United States.

The school is for ages 2 ½ to 4 ½. Beautiful murals created by a local artist depicted animals and colorful flowers. Not unlike preschools in the United States, the walls were filled with artwork created by these children. The children, all from tsunami-affected families, anxiously sat around their small, blue wooden tables.

One young boy, who was sitting near a window, couldn’t contain his excitement. He quickly ran to greet us with a hello and a high-five. And then he ran back to his chair. Wondering if he was in trouble and therefore separated, I inquired about him. It turns out he actually wanted to be near his grandmother, who was standing just outside the open window. It was essentially an open-air school and the mothers and other caregivers gathered around to watch the guests visiting their children.

This same boy later sought me out so he could tell me his name. After returning to his seat he found me again and asked me to take his photo. Digital cameras have the same response from young children globally – they all want their photos taken, and they all want to see it. This boy was no different. Finally, he found me once more and gave me a leaf. (Presenting beetle leaves to welcome guests is a sign of respect in Sri Lanka.)

One mother, Manori, told the story of her daughter Gagani who was born just two days before the tsunami. Manori was returning home with her newborn and fled to a temple which was built on high ground. It is the same place where the preschool, is located.

The school had a wonderful playground built from many local materials including coconut shells attached to the rope for climbing, and recycled tires used in a variety of ways. It was a beautiful and inexpensive use of local resources. I think American schools could learn something from this practice. Not only did it save money, but what an environmentally friendly way to use materials! But... coconuts are a little tougher to find in the continental states.

Speaking of coconuts, today was the second time we were served coconuts -- drinking the milk straight out of the coconut itself. They simply take a large knife, hack out a hole in the top and insert a straw. I don’t find them to have much flavor and what they do have, is not all that appealing. There’s no way I could ever finish one as they are huge – at least one liter! And, you have to use two hands to hold them, which makes it really hard to take notes. And I am, after all, here to work!

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