Early morning, Kayankerny
The chorus of very young voices fills the cheerful school-room as toddlers recite the alphabet diligently at the kindergarten center. Approximately 42 children study in these two classes for three hours daily.
Early afternoon, Komari
The bright yellow uniforms of little children provide a vivid contrast to the little blue chairs they sit on as they color the drawings in their books, watched by a smiling teacher. The three-storey building where the kindergarten classes are held daily also has a play-ground with several swing-sets, slides and a small garden.
Early evening, Kayankerny
The community play-ground comes alive with the sight and sounds of a boisterous game of cricket as village youngsters challenge each other, watched by an indulgent crowd.
Three different montages, one common mission accomplished—the return of normalcy and the beginning of fresh, lasting development. For SOS, rebuilding lives after the devastation wrought by the Tsunami meant much more than rebuilding houses and distributing aid. It also meant starting Family Strengthening Programs, kindergarten and social centers where different classes were held, encouraging sports and above all, re-kindling a sense of confidence.
A decade later, young beneficiaries whose lives were changed beyond their wildest expectations, share their experiences of a challenging journey. “Before it hit us that December morning, we didn’t know what Tsunami meant or even how to pronounce the word. We thought it was the name of a person!” laughs 32 year-old Kamalraj, a government school teacher in Komari village.
He was among the first batch of young volunteers—his brother Babu and brother-in-law Padmarajah along with him—to help SOS Deputy Director Divakar in relief operations; working out of temporary sheds, relaying peoples’ needs.
Sitting in the spacious house given to his family by SOS, Kamalraj effortlessly lists the various initiatives launched by SOS a decade ago, complete with their immediate and long-term impact. “Children and youngsters who were traumatized the most in the disaster got succor in the activities SOS organized for them—especially with the kindergarten center and sports tournaments. English classes were held by an American volunteer. Earlier no one knew how to use a computer here, SOS formed a computer center to teach them; they also gave children sports equipment so we formed sports clubs and trained youngsters” he elaborates.
His younger sister Madhivadhani, balancing her small baby daughter on her knee, continues the transformation tale, “We used to live in a clay house earlier and just before that fateful day, we had all our materials ready to build a new house. The Tsunami waves swept away all of it, along with our dreams. We all ran towards safety carrying just some jewellery with us. When SOS gave us a proper, secure house it united our family of three brothers and two sisters and it freed us from worry. We could all concentrate fully on our studies with excellent results—my eldest brother went abroad. Kamalraj became a teacher, my brother Babu is a Government employee and I too passed my Advanced level examination and work for the Government. None of this would have been possible without SOS intervention. It helped our entire village develop,” says Madhivadhani gratefully.
Her husband Padmaraj, now a senior co- worker at SOS, Jaffna, traces his own progress from volunteer to employee with visible pride. “ We were a good team of volunteers at that time, ten years ago, acting as a bridge between the community and SOS, conveying requests. After the Tsunami people felt hopeless about the future; SOS changed that with two things—a safe, strong structure that was their new house and the turning point which was the initial money distributed. Even an amount of Rs 10,000 was enough for people who wanted to be able to complete a task—a net to go back to the sea, a small saw—the idea was to get back on your feet. As for me, I travelled from being a victim to a volunteer to an account assistant and now, a senior co- worker” says Padmaraj emotionally.
One family’s success story, an inspiration for many and a role model for women. A decade ago in Komari girls would be married off at the age of 14, today there are 35 girls who are studying for A levels according to Kamalraj.
In relatively more impoverished Kayenkerny too, tales of transformation and progress motivate the next generation to build on what SOS began a decade ago. Smartly-dressed and articulate, 18 year-old Dharshini is an obvious role model for her siblings who hover around her as she describes her ambitions, “ I want to pass my A level exams with flying colors and become a teacher. I want to make my parents and SOS proud by studying further and becoming a genius! I was able to pass my O level exams only with the help of SOS. Due to the tuitions provided by them and other help with books/stationery, there are 7 students selected for A levels this year,” says Darshini glowingly.
Her mother Muthulakshmi is equally grateful to SOS for a ‘ better life’ than before, a permanent house and toilets—“we used to go to the jungle earlier, we now use bathrooms” she declares, pointing towards the structure outside her home.
Gender equality is another spin-off benefit of SOS FSP interventions. “ Earlier we used to give preference only to boys when it came to education and get our girls married as soon as possible. After SOS came and educated us, we realized girls need education too” says Sridharan Prema of Kurukkalmadam. The social center and FSP here, as well as those in Komari and Kayankerny have all been handed over to local societies in December 2013; in some cases (such as the Rural Development Society in Kayenkerny) SOS helps out the societies and will continue to do so for the next couple of years but the aim is to make the communities self-sustaining in the long-term.
As Divakar points out, “As an organization, we can’t go on forever, the local Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have taken over and we can guide them. Personally I feel Kayankerny may need some support, Komari can work on its own. For our FSP unrelated to the Tsunami, we have 6 Children’s villages and 6 affiliated programs, apart from the two FSPs in Peraliya and Gandara, where our main objective is to make the mother and family strong”.
Horambuwa village—near the Children’s Village Moonragala--lies hidden through a forested, dusty trail, off the beaten track but the FSP initiatives that drive two feisty women, Chandrawathi and Sudarshani, to earn an additional income through betel nut and poultry farming are very much on the fast track to self-sustainability.
National Director Ananda Karunarathne talks of semi-educated mothers who can now log onto the internet to market their work courtesy the training they receive through the FSP centers; “ Income generation, education, health, family counseling, self-employment training such as cottage industries using traditional products---all form part of the FSP agenda” says the director smilingly.
Hardly surprising then that Sudhaharan Alageshwary of Kurukkalmadam says fervently, “I have borne so many burdens in my life. I have to bring up three children on my own; there is no one to help me. Every Friday I go to the temple and pray that SOS should continue their services for my children’s education!”
It is a prayer echoed in many homes and lives that SOS has touched in the last decade; its final yardstick for success however will be the independence achieved by the Tsunami survivors.