Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sri Lanka's tropical scenery is reflected by the abundant growth of colorful hibiscus and other exotic plants. Even though we are now in the dry region of the country, everything appears lush and green. A large variety of bananas grow here, and we are constantly being given different ones to try. None of them are nearly as big as the traditional bananas consumed in the United States. Many are only four inches long. Some are very thick. And they all have a different taste – some sweet, some sour and some with little or no taste at all.
We visited a program this morning in Hambantota for children who had dropped out of school. Ranging in age from 7 to 16 years, many left school because they were being bullied. One boy, now 13, lost his right leg in an accident. He hasn’t gone to school since the tsunami because he was being teased. This program is helping the children integrate back into schools – and staff at the formal schools are supporting this effort.

We visited the home of 15-year-old Jayanthimala, a student from this program. Jayanthimala, the oldest of five kids, dropped out of school because of family problems.

Jayanthimala aspires to stay in school and get an education to become a police officer. Although her family is happy she is back in school, the teachers told us that many parents and caregivers are upset their children are attending as they would prefer to have them work around the house and engage in employment.

Jayanthimala’s house is a one-room thatched hut, no bigger than 12 feet by 12 feet in which she and three siblings live. The walls are sparsely decorated with posters and there is no furniture, only a bike that belonged to one of her brothers. The rent for the house is $4.90 per month.

The tsunami continues to have an effect on this region. People are still recovering from its destruction. While visiting a new library that was built by Un Enfant Tar La Main (a member of the ChildFund Alliance), we could see a Food City store nearby. It had opened the day of the tsunami. That day – Dec. 26, 2004 – was an auspicious day, believed to be lucky. The opening was planned for that day in order to bring in a lot of business. Everyone who worked at the store was killed.

I can hear the waves crashing from inside my hotel room. I thought it would bother me while I slept, but I was OK. You can’t help but think how close you are to the sea that took so many lives. Yet every day as we visit the programs, we are reminded of the resiliency of the Sri Lankan people as they move forward and rebuild their lives.

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