Sunday, February 24, 2008

We headed out of Colombo along the Indian Ocean to start visiting CCF’s programs in the southern region. CCF has worked in Sri Lanka since 1985 and assists more than 750,000 children and their family members. We didn’t begin work in the southern region until after the tsunami. CCF responded quickly to the disaster and made our presence known. Many of the programs in this area target children who lost one or both parents in the tsunami.

The Indian Ocean becomes more beautiful as you travel south. It changes from a dark sapphire blue to a stunning turquoise blue that contrasts amazingly against the golden sand. At times it is hard to imagine that an ocean so breathtaking delivered death, despair and destruction on Dec. 26, 2004, when the tsunami hit.

We started the day by visiting a friendly cricket match. Cricket is somewhat of an obsession in this country. Sri Lanka is in the midst of cricket season, so cricket matches were taking place all over the country – formally and informally. This match was between two CCF Children’s Clubs. Cricket is one of many activities with psycho-social development elements that also helps bring communities together.

Charles Davy, CCF’s Asia Regional Vice President, (pictured to the left) couldn’t help himself and had to play. A native from England, he grew up playing the sport. At first hesitant because of the hot, humid temperatures, Davy strolled onto the field to the delight of the community gathered around to watch. Although it wasn’t the most successful performance, Davy did entertain. And he swore that it was much cooler on the field because it was catching a breeze.

Following the cricket match, we stopped at a memorial for a train that derailed during the tsunami. There were 1,270 passengers who died in addition to 249 villagers. The memorial boasts a graphic depiction of what happened that day when the train derailed near Galle. It showed bodies flung out of windows, across the tracks and without body parts. It was chilling to see a real account of what happened that day. You only had to glance around the memorial to see the same sea that caused that destruction.

As an organization, CCF strives to empower youth to become the future leaders in their communities. We saw this firsthand in Galle. Child Advisory Teams have been formed to give children a voice. These children not only have a voice, but raised their concerns to government officials – including the chairman of the National Child Protection Authority and representatives from the police force.

Anne (pictured in photo at the top) and Charles were greeted with traditional drums as two young girls preformed a traditional dance. They raised various flags while the Sri Lankan national anthem was sung. Anne was asked to raise the CCF flag, which got stuck midway going up.

“I’m so glad that wasn’t the Sri Lankan flag that got stuck,” she said with relief after performing the duty.

The drums and dancers then led the procession into the building.

The event was incredible. There were 52 children – ranging in age from 14 to 18 – they had endured so much and stood confidently in front of high-ranking officials -- it was inspiring. Almost all of the children lost at least one parent in the tsunami – some of them lost both parents. They were not shy about sharing their concerns of how drugs and alcohol were causing problems among the children in their communities. And they were not afraid to challenge their government and authority figures and offer their solutions to these problems.

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