I don’t remember exactly when I realised how fortunate I am. As a young child you assume that your circumstances are the same as every other kid. The life you know must be like the life others know. Growing up in America especially, you can be so far removed from other cultures and countries that it’s hard to imagine any other way of life.
When we were planning this year away we knew we wanted to expose our kids to how other children live. We hoped they would gain an understanding of the world, its diverse geography and cultures, and also its people who live in vastly different circumstances. Without shocking them — they’re all still pretty young — we wanted them to understand how fortunate we are to live in a wealthy nation.
We were first exposed to extreme poverty when we landed in Peru. It’s impossible to miss the shantytowns on the barren hills surrounding Lima, the poor children in alleyways and the dilapidated and unsafe buildings people call home around the city. We had a walking tour through Lima with Haku Tours, who also offer tours of Lima’s shantytowns to raise money for them. We didn’t think our kids were ready for shantytowns on their first stop in S. America, but our guide, Edwin, did a great job of describing the conditions some children in Lima live in. Though it wasn’t our intention, our kids were pretty shocked by our brief time in Peru.
About a week before heading for S. America our friend Andrew introduced us to his sister-in-law, Alison Nagle, who helped found the Rainbow Centre for Sri Lanka’s extremely impoverished children. Alison and co-founder, Aruni Cooray, set up the charity shortly after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that killed over 35,000 people in Sri Lanka. Their focus was on providing education, welfare and loving support to children living in extreme poverty in southwestern Sri Lanka. We got in touch with Alison and made plans to visit. We had been looking forward to this day ever since.
Before visiting, we read about the centre and the children they look after. We saw pictures of their homes (above) –often not more than a tarpaulin strung up over dirty, barren land. If they had a piece of disused foam to sleep on they were lucky. They had no access to clean water, regular meals or education. We therefore expected to find weary, downtrodden children at the Rainbow Centre. We found exactly the opposite.
Our first impression on arrival was what a happy place the Rainbow Centre is. Every child and staff member greeted us warmly. As we were shown around their premises–a mix of cheerfully painted indoor and outdoor classrooms, library, lunchroom and kitchen around a small playground and green space–we were met by smile after smile. It was obvious how happy the children are to be there and how happy the staff was to look after them. Just being on the grounds made these children smile and gave them hope. This could not be more in contrast to their lives outside the Rainbow Centre.
During our visit Aruni told us more about how these children live. We learned about their parents, born into the same extreme poverty and living with social problems associated with it—alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and exploitation. They could not hope to provide education, medical care, clean water or regular meals to their children. They did not send their kids to school. They sent them to beg or to collect metals or other waste materials in the nearby rubbish tips. When you struggle to survive day to day, there is no forward planning for yourself or your children. You do what you have to do to get by.
The Rainbow Centre decided the best way to break this cycle was through education. Its primary focus is to enable children to access the educational system. To date, it has enabled 460 children to go to mainstream school and currently has 98 kids in its care. It operates completely free pre-school, nursery, day school, vocational training and scholarship programmes. It provides regular medical care for the children and their families. It is the only facility in this area for these children to turn to and has been praised highly at national and local levels for its standard of care.
The centre is always in need of donations (cash, clothing, books) but this year they are launching a special fund raising initiative to help them buy their current premises. Their lease on this little campus, into which they’ve poured so much love and investment, is reaching maturity and they are at risk of having to move. It would make a life-changing difference for the centre to have a permanent home (they’ve already moved four times in the past 10 years), not just for the security of the Rainbow Centre and its children, but also for its expanding educational and medical programs.
We would like to help them raise the additional £50,000 they need to buy their premises. We are asking friends, family and readers of this blog to donate this month. Any amount you can offer would help and will make a huge difference to the 98 children under their loving care. You can donate by following this link. The Rainbow Centre Sri Lanka is a UK-registered charity and a Sri Lankan NGO, so you can be sure that your donation goes directly to the children in Sri Lanka and where it is needed the most. The centre prides itself on its low administration costs and volunteers carry out all fundraising.
We spent the afternoon at the beach with the 6 and 7-year-old students from the centre. Aside the sea and sand they played like any other carefree children would play, full of energy and imagination. Despite the language barrier, we all played along with them and enjoyed this special outing. It was hard to believe such happy kids could have such difficult lives, but just an hour or so later they were back on the centre’s bus, heading home to the slums and shantytowns of Sri Lanka.
Without the Rainbow Centre these children would be condemned to the same cycle of poverty trapping their parents. Even with the Rainbow Centre’s help they will still have an uphill battle. Now, at least, they have a chance. They have hope and they have access to the education needed to improve their circumstances. We were totally humbled by the selfless work of the centre and so moved by their cause. We hope by publicizing their work we can help them raise the money to buy their premises and continue looking after these wonderful kids. We will continue to support them in the years to come and look forward to returning again.
Please donate (no amount is too small!) to the Rainbow Centre here. Thank you so much for your support. xx
Images 2, 3, 4, and 6 were found on the Rainbow Centre’s website. The rest are our photos taken the day we visited.