The End, Then the Beginning

August 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Copyright, 2012 World Vision. Photographed by Matthew Paul Turner

I’m not someone who likes to skip ahead and read the end of a book first. But every once in a while, when a book gets particularly terrifying, I can understand why people do it. Sometimes knowing the ends helps to give a little hope when things become dire.

Today was kind of like that. If yesterday’s closing ceremonies were like reading the end of a book, then today’s visit to a new ADP was like reading the beginning of the book … a book that immediately starts out with a cliff hanger.

At our new ADP—Mundalama, which has been in existence for less than one year—Mala, a day laborer and mother of three, worries that her eldest, her daughter, will be forced to relive her own difficult life. Mala had to drop out of school at 7 years old to go and live with another family where she cleaned and kept house for 300 rupees a month. Three hundred rupees is $3. Her father came once a month to collect the money, which gave necessary support to her four siblings. At 17 she moved to Kuwait to work as a domestic servant—where she was able to make slightly more money to send home to her family. Now she is a day laborer working in the fields and her husband in the mill. They walk 3-5 kilometers every day for work, water and food. “But,” she tells us, her daughter is “very smart, very studious.” Her daughter will escape this life. Education is her out and she is taking a scholarship exam on Saturday. This daughter smiles small half smiles into her shoulder and tells us her favorite subject is math. Her favorite thing to play? She likes to study, she says. The weight of a family’s hopes are heavy on her. When pressed, she concedes she’ll also play ball sometimes with the kids. She is not sponsored yet, which makes her sad, her friends are beginning to get sponsors. She is awaiting her letter.

Yesterday, at Willuwa, we learned the story of Jamia, a Muslim woman who was forced to stop her schooling in the eighth grade. She was devastated and clandestinely continued to study on her own, borrowing books from former classmates. Then she heard about an English class in her village taught by World Vision. Her mother finally allowed her to attend. Once there, the teacher found out Jamia wasn’t in school and began to visit her family, trying to convince her mother Jamia should be in school. It was against their culture for a girl to continue on in school, but it was also a question of finances. When World Vision promised to meet all their needs, her mother broke down. Though she had been out of school for two years, Jamia’s secret studying allowed her to resume classes in grade 10. Jamia finished her schooling at the top of her class. Now, after attending college, she is a teacher. Her dream? To make sure every girl gets to complete school. She says she will start in her own village. She knows how much hidden talent is there.

Today, we met Afra. She is being sponsored by Tony Jones, one of the bloggers on our trip. You can read more about Tony and Afra at his blog. But Afra is beautiful and so shy. Her leg is disfigured and her limp pronounced. She was hit by a truck and left in the ditch as a small child. Her parents did what they could to save her leg, but her heel is forever poised three inches above the ground. Today is her birthday. She is celebrated lavishly by all of us. One of the World Vision staff tells us that perhaps this day, when she is honored by a group of foreigners, will change her place in the community. She is an object of cruel teasing, isolated from her friends and village. But maybe now that people from far away have honored her, those in her community will accept her. The staff member has seen it before. Afra’s family is extremely poor and her hospital stays and surgery took all of what little they’d had. Afra’s life has been characterized by tragedy and cruelty. She will likely never marry. Her foot will keep her from most day labor jobs. Her only hope is education. But today she grins and carefully places the frosting rose from her cake into a safe place: a keepsake from this most special of birthdays.

Yesterday, our guide Hasanthi gave us a book of stories she had collected from Willuwa. In the book is the story of Karunadasa, a 58-year-old farmer who grew up working in paddy cultivation until he went blind. His blindness kept him from farming or any true employment. Then he started home gardening. Through World Vision’s Integrated Farming and Sustainable Agriculture Project, he learned practical methods for cultivating a successful home garden: from natural fertilizers to building bunds to protecting his plants from harmful insects and animals. Karunadasa is now a leader in the farming community and his home garden supports him and his wife. “That is the beauty of being blind,” he told Hasanthi, “you come to know your soil and the plants more closely because you have to touch and feel them.”

The end, then the beginning. A cliff-hanger with no certain outcome. But a glimpse ahead offers some hope.

****I’m honored to be a guest of World Vision’s this week in Sri Lanka, along with these very talented bloggers. I have long been an advocate of child sponsorship and I will always tell you it’s one of the best ways to spend $35 a month. It really works. If you are interested in sponsoring a child in Sri Lanka, click here.

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