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Visit to Preethipura Children's Orphanage

Community Highlights Volunteering Visit to Preethipura Children's Orphanage

During our trip to Sri Lanka, we have been planning to visit an orphanage and make a small but a positive contribution to the welfare of the children. There are many orphanages in Sri Lanka, some funded by the government and the others funded and run by private organizations.
We wanted to select one that does not get much support from the government or other foreign organizations.
Preethipura children's orphanage is a privately owned orphanage in a small village called Hendala just outside Colombo. There are nearly seventy disabled children and twenty five workers to look after them. The workers are mainly girls lovingly called Akkas ( older sisters ) . Some of them are orphans who grew up in the orphanage and later became part of the work force. Others are from nearby villages. Their monthly salary is around Rs 8000.00 which is roughly about seventy dollars. They get accommodation and food free. They can easily find work for double the salary as house maids or as workers in garment factories. But once they start working with helpless disabled children, they come to love them and they do not want to leave the place.

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At Preethipura, we found that some of the disabled children came from poor families who cannot afford to look after them. Others have been totally abandoned by their parents. There were several children who were deformed and discarded by their families. The parents leave them in a public place to be discovered by the police.

Before coming to Sri Lanka, we contacted the management of Preethipura through my nephew Chathura. He lives in Sri Lanka and managed to arrange a date to offer lunch for the children at the orphanage. We could either give provisions to them or give them money to buy provisions. They total cost of the lunch for the children and the staff is only about $60.00. We were willing to give them a more expensive lunch, but the management advised us to stick to the standard lunch. We also wanted to make a bigger contribution, but we wanted to see their requirements before making a commitment.

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We had a group of seven people. We went to the orphanage around 11:30am. The Akkas ( older sisters ) arranged the lunch plates on trolleys and got ready to serve lunch at 12:00 noon. We had a chance to go around the building and have a look at the children while waiting for the lunch to be served. A few children are quite active and they wander around the building. The less active children are wheel chair confined or confined to the bed. They are totally dependent on the workers to feed them and clean them. We saw a few disabled children in a room lying on mattresses. They are kept there for a short period of time to move their arms and legs and get much needed exercise.

There was one lady who volunteered to become a worker to be with her daughter. This lady has another grown up daughter and a husband. Twenty five years ago, when she was pregnant with the second child, she went to the hospital for the child birth. The doctor did not arrive on time and the child's head got stuck for a long time. Later the doctor came and did a forceps delivery. The child, a girl, was found to be brain damaged and later when they realized the true situation, the girl was transferred to the orphanage. Now the mother comes to the orphanage twenty days a month to be with the daughter. She looks after her daughter and also helps with the other children. The daughter looks like a 10 year old child though she is actually 25 years old.

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We found the children to be well disciplined and patiently waiting for their food plates to be served. The Akkas first served the food to the children who can eat on their own and then started feeding the children who are unable to eat on their own. We realized these Akkas form the backbone of the orphanage and deserved to be recognized more. They are totally committed to their work and treat the children with kindness and love. They can easily find employment elsewhere for a better salary. They work with the children, because they love their work and want to be with the children.

When the children finished their lunch, we first discussed among ourselves and then talked to the manager. We wanted to know how we could help them and make a bigger contribution. The Manager of the orphanage is Thillaka de Kretser, the wife of Bryan de Kretser , the person who started this orphanage. Thillaka explained the various expenses they have to bear to maintain the orphanage. The Government is not giving any money. They have to totally depend on the donations from various organizations and individuals. Providing food to the children is only a small part of their expenses. The monthly electricity bill alone comes to Re 52000.00 which is a little less than $ 500.00. They have to clean the clothes of all the children in industrial washing machines on ac daily basis. This consumes a large amount of energy and the monthly bill is very high. They have started many other projects such as renovating some of the buildings and road ways to the orphanage. We can make a small contribution to any of those projects. Workers are paid a very nominal salary, but their total monthly salary package is something they find hard to meet.

Our group had a discussion among ourselves and decided on two things. We could make a reasonable contribution to the administration of the orphanage. We also should give something to the workers to recognize their work and show our appreciation. There were twenty five workers in all and we decided to give each worker a small gift of Rs1000.00. We also decided to pay one of their monthly electricity bills which is nearly $500.00. The manager organized to get all the workers lined up and Mala gave each worker a Rs 1000.00 note. We could see the signs of happiness on their face. More than the money, it is rare for outsiders to recognize the good work done by the workers.

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We came back to our hotel in the evening knowing we have done something good. It was an eye opening experience for all of us. When we travel, we stay in expensive hotels, move with affluent tourists and rarely see what is happening in the outside world. Today we saw a totally different side of the people who live in this country. We saw the innocent children who have been abandoned and discarded by their parents living in a confined place. We saw the female workers doing a thankless job looking after these abandoned children, for a very small salary.

This featured blog entry was written by fernando65 from the blog Exploring Sri Lanka.
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By fernando65

Posted Wed, Jan 08, 2014 | Comments