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Monday, 19 December 2011

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A 'Change' of heart

It's that time of the season again. It is the Christmas season, a season of happiness and more importantly a season of thankfulness and gratitude. With all the commercialization and celebrations most of us have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. If you carefully think about it, what did Jesus do in his lifetime? He had compassion for those in need, and that is the integral part of the season; to help those in need.


Janaki Gunawardena. Picture by Roshan Pitipana

This is where Business and Professional Women Sri Lanka (BPWSL), a non governmental organization (NGO) comes into the picture. The Daily News met up with founder of BPWSL and Project Chairperson for Change, Janaki Gunawardena to discuss their new project - 'Change'.

"We have many programmes going but this particular programme is designed to give the not so wealthy children who are going to school, a pair of shoes, a glass of milk, a shirt and a trouser, a bag and the books.

What we really want to do is to involve all the rich children in giving a poor child a gift because for all the international school children, it is nothing for them to give Rs. 12,000 away," said Gunawardena.

Actually what Elizabeth Moir has done is they have told the children without giving the money, to buy the items themselves. A book list have been given to Elizabeth Moir and the children have bought a bag and all the book list. A list of 2000 names have been submitted for the school in Hanwella - these are the poorest of the poor.

"In one particular school, the children themselves have bought the items for these deprived students. These poor children have only one meal a day and nobody has shoes and some of them don't even have slippers. They come along the streets with no shoes and no slippers.

They have only one bit of clothing and if that is washed they don't go to school the next day or they wear the wet clothes and go.

What I am trying to do is to get each rich family involved with one poor family, so they can support each family and help the child to be able to go to school" stated Gunawardena.

The whole thing for the year costs only by the 'Change' 12,000 rupees and to give a glass of milk every day in the school. What is done is that, it sends a milkman to go to the school and all the children are given a glass of milk and the principle makes a note of how many children have received the glass of milk and the bill is sent to the 'Change'.

"This is the coming generation. So if we don't help them to educate themselves, they will become drug addicts and rogues. So we have to support them. It is very difficult for their mothers and fathers to support them. If you look through the list of 2000 names, I have given them all a piece of paper to write their name, school, age and their grade. I have also included questions such as what are your parents name and their income? And we found out that every person is earning below Rs. 10,000," explained Gunawardena.

These are labourers, road labourers, tree cutters. They cannot sustain them and they don't even buy the books. When Gunawardena asked them why they cannot buy the books, their reply was; "Madam, if I can't put the food on the table for once a day, how can I be buying books". So each child uses one exercise book for four subjects.

"So what we want to do is start this pilot project from Hanwella. Once we finish Hanwella we want to go to these areas all around Sri Lanka, so every rich family gets involved with a poor family. That will take the burden away from the government. The government cannot supply all the children with school books and school shoes, but a rich family can. The rich family can tell their brothers and sisters to do it. There is a need for labourers in Colombo. You can use one to wash your car, or you may need a mason or a carpenter. All these people are in the villages, they have no work and we have no labourers. So it can be a joint venture," elaborated Gunawardena.

Gunawardena stressed the need for change. The war is over and so many things are happening so we all must learn to change. The change should happen from the top. If the rich people don't want to change and want to go along with their same lifestyle without looking at the underprivileged, we are going to end up with a big problem because there is a lot of development but poor people are not getting any benefit, we have to see that they get some sort of benefit.

"They live in a miserable state. Their houses have no cement on the floor, so when it rains the ground gets muddy. So if the rich people get involved in the whole project, the whole thing can be done beautifully. Rs. 12,000 ? what is that for a rich parent for books and nutrition? For the Sinhala new year, we give a bag of dry rations, new clothes and nearly new clothes that we collect throughout the year. These people don't have even a bit of cloth to put on the ground for them to sleep on. They don't have beds or a mat to sleep on the ground" added Gunawardena.

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