22nd December 2014 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Our sixth blog is by Lynn Stanier, a specialist travel agent to Sri Lanka, organising holiday and sports tours. Lynn turned her immediate devastation into a long term determination to support vulnerable children.
Immediately after the tsunami, I visited Sri Lanka with my son Ryan to volunteer and support the Sri Lankan people. I was shocked by the damage and loss that had occurred and the immense suffering in the aftermath.
The tsunami left over 4,500 orphans – an overwhelming impact on already overstretched orphanages. We volunteered at a Government children’s institution in Galle, where children who had already suffered such trauma from losing their families faced bleak futures.
In the midst of all of this need and devastation, I picked up a tiny baby called Piyumi who had been crying incessantly. Immediately, little Piyumi stopped crying and I felt that I had helped her. In that moment, I knew that I couldn’t walk away. However small my contribution would be, I knew it would be worthwhile, and Their Future Today, now a registered charity in the UK and in Sri Lanka, was born. Helped by my family, clients and supporters, we have spent the last ten years raising funds and implementing change directly at grassroots level with our Sri Lankan partners and colleagues where children will feel the most benefit.
We’ve learnt that 90% of so called ‘orphans’ in institutions do have a family, but often a single parent or extended family who are too poor to support them. Baby Piyumi was one of these: her mother Badrani was forced to abandon her when she was born, along with her 8 year old brother, when she became homeless as a result of their father disappearing post tsunami.
In 2009, following months of exhaustive searching, Ryan and Their Future Today Project Director Percy Gunarathna discovered Piyumi’s mother in a rural area in the Galle region. It became obvious that she desperately wanted her children back, but was working for very little wages and had nowhere to live.
By 2010, Their Future Today had raised enough money to buy land and build a small home. After a lengthy court process, both children were joyfully reunited with their mother, registered in a local school, and Badrani was given the tools to become self-sufficient.
Today, Piyumi lives happily with her mother, next door to another Their Future Today house where in 2013 Shantakumara, Sharlika, and Sandaruwan were reunited with their mother Rukmani.
Their Future Today now reaches around 2,000 institutionalised and vulnerable children in the Southern Province, and also supports disadvantaged and often disabled families, to help prevent abandonment. Education is key to changing this cycle of poverty and we give school books to enable 1,300 institutionalised and poor rural children to attend school , in the hope that fewer babies will be abandoned in the future. We also improve conditions and care in institutions, by raising standards, employing housemothers, building libraries and classrooms, introducing sporting activities and art therapy, and funding therapies for disabled children.
On 5 January 2015, to mark the tsunami’s 10th anniversary, we’re opening a Their Future Today International Day Care Pre-school, teaching English to children as young as 3 years old and giving poor families at risk of abandoning their children, like Badrani and Rukmani, another choice. A place to leave their children safely while they work, and then take them home.
Ten years on, Sri Lanka’s infrastructure has recovered from the tsunami. The orphans it left behind are growing up. But many little children are still going needlessly into institutions, at financial and emotional cost. So Their Future Today will focus increasingly on strategies and solutions to support families, so that they can nurture their children and endow them with the love and care they deserve and need for a positive future.
Read other blogs in the series: