streets to success
Abandoned children find home and guidance
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
When Dinith Priyantha* is dished out a plate of rice and curry,
he grabs it, dumps it in the bin and then rummages through the bin
picking up the food from among the rubbish before putting it into
this eight-year-old, habits die-hard. He knows no other way of finding
his food. Lessons too are anathema to this street-smart, free-spirited
waif and even when coaxed to go to school he plays truant by hiding
in the compound or the toilet. But he has one speciality - that
of "balti geheema" (somersaulting), which he does at the
drop of a hat.
is what he has been used to all his life - picking up food from
the garbage, somersaulting over and over again for a few coins to
keep body and soul together and roughing it out in a cruel world.
From infancy his "home" had been the street.
sketchy records about him indicate that his life has been "simple"
but traumatic. Sold by his mother when just three months old, he
had been a baby used by another woman in her begging rounds. Gaining
the wisdom of the street at an early age, he had survived for four
years before the police plucked him off the street and sent him
to a state-run home.
at the Boys' Home run by the Child Protection Society of Ceylon,
he not only has a wooden bunk bed to call his own and a tiny locker
to keep his clothes, but also three square meals a day without having
to somersault for them and people around him to ensure he gets love
and care. Sent from the state-run home to the Boys' Home in 2001,
at last he has found a real home, where he will stay until he comes
of age when he can fend for himself with dignity.
the doors of both the Boys' Home in Maharagama and the Girls' Home
in Kottawa run by the Child Protection Society are always wide open
for just such children as Dinith. Nearly 70 abandoned and traumatised
boys and girls, who have fallen by the wayside and for whom society
does not have time are provided succour at these homes.
children ranging in age from 6 to 18 are sent to the homes by the
Department of Probation and Child Care or through the courts,"
says the Vice President of the Society, Chandra de Silva, who is
better known for his eco-tourism professionalism and ventures. Like
Mr. de Silva, all members of the voluntary executive committee have
been and are eminent persons who are rendering a silent service
for Sri Lanka's forgotten children. (See box)
provide love, care, good food and medicine when they are ill. We
hold extra classes, like dancing lessons, for them to develop their
creativity and make them well-rounded citizens. Skills training
is also provided so that they can stand on their own two feet when
they go out into the world at 18," he explains.
a majority of the boys and girls, this is the first kind, caring
and loving home they have known in their young lives. The children
are either from broken homes or where the parents are alcoholics,
drug addicts, vagrants or the mother is a domestic worker unable
to care for her children.
sound of rough voices raised in song, then a few words of banter
greet us as we enter the sprawling Boys' Home set amidst five acres
off the Pamunuwa Road. The land had been donated by philanthropist
N.D.H. Abdul Cafoor in the 1930s.
is 4 o'clock of another school day. Lessons over, the boys have
returned from school, had a scrub down, before sitting down to a
solid lunch of rice, two vegetables and fish, egg or dried fish.
It is time for the smaller ones to relax and the bigger boys, summoned
by a bell, to have catch-up tuition lessons in English.
the dormitory of the smaller boys, eight-year-old Romesh is meticulously
folding the few pieces of clothing he owns and placing them one
by one in a wooden locker, while Samantha pensively looks on seated
on his wooden bunk. Among the rare few who are lucky to have visits
from their mothers, Samantha treasures the few minutes he has with
her once in about three months.
mother is brought by the family for whom she works as a domestic
as we are about to wind down for the night," says Malkanthi
Peters, one of three matrons in charge of the boys along with Superintendent
Ananda Dikkumbura. Adds Shanthi Manamperi, another matron, "Samantha
calls the Master of the house Thaththa and the Mistress, Nona. After
a little time his mother is whisked off, almost in tears."
few miles away, in the Girls' Home in Rukmale, Kottawa, pretty little
girls are dancing to the beat of a Kandyan drum, while another group
is in the home-garden tending to the plot that provides some of
their vegetables like brinjals and tomato.
J.P.K. Vithane, who along with three assistants looks after the
girls, proudly shows us the "osu uyana" with all the herbal
plants in another section of the garden. "We have divided the
girls into groups and they do their share. This will be good training
for them when they have to run a home of their own," she says.
18 is the usual age for them to go out into society, Anoma is an
exception. Born deaf, Anoma had not been sent to school. When she
was brought to the home, the staff had persevered, bought her a
hearing aid and taught her to read and write when she was 12.
24, Anoma can sew beautifully and brings out the pillow-cases with
colourful birds and flowers she has stitched, for us to see. She
can cook too and her hope is to work in a secure place soon, marry
and have children. "She is a very affectionate girl,"
says Ms. Vithane. “We hope to see her settled. All the money
we get from her sewing is put into her book."
a breather from her dancing lesson, bright-eyed Chrysanthi, 6, has
a long time in this home. Brought in with her eight-year-old sister,
by their mother who is unable to care for them, about four months
ago, they have fitted in well in the cosy environment. "I love
my school work," says Chrysanthi giving us a gap-toothed smile.
success stories resulting from the dedicated work of the Child Protection
Society are many. A boy who passed through the portals of the home
is now an accountant having his own firm. He is proud of his roots
and the 10 years he spent under its care. He is now on the Executive
Committee to lend a hand in running the home.
girl who received shelter and love, pays frequent visits to the
place she calls "home", not alone but with her husband
and two little girls. Happily married and working in a bank, she
comes laden with gifts and sweets for her "sisters".
the hundreds of children who have never experienced a mother's love,
the "homes" of the Child Protection Society have been
a haven safeguarding them against the vicissitudes of life. (*Certain
names have been changed to protect the children's identity)
it all began
Seventy-odd years ago, a Britisher whose heart used to
bleed every time he saw an abandoned child on the streets of Ceylon,
would take the child home and give him shelter. Those were the late
1920s when child welfare, care and protection were not buzz-words,
unlike now when most NGOs are joining this bandwagon.
was Sir John Parsons, the Chairman of Bartleets, who together with
his wife cared for destitute children. "At that time, there
was no mechanism in the public sector to look into the plight of
was no Department of Probation and Child Care," says Child
Protection Society Vice President Chandra de Silva, explaining that
Parsons and a few like-minded people including lawyers formed a
loosely-knit group to help children. In 1931, this group set up
the Child Protection Society of Ceylon. "Later we had a network
of senior lawyers who pursued child abusers around the country and
first president of the society was Lady Caldecott, wife of the then
Governor of Ceylon, followed by other eminent persons. The present
patron is President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Vice Patron Justice
O.S.M. Seneviratne and President Walter Ladduwahetty (the Financial
Ombudsman of the country).
the objectives of the society are: to prevent cruelty to and neglect
and exploitation of children, to rescue children from immoral surroundings
and to find suitable guardians for these children.The latest syndrome,
of course, is sexual abuse of children, says Mr. de Silva.
homes of the society are run mostly with donations and the little
funding the state provides per child. The Ceylon-Australia-New Zealand
Association (CANZA) has taken the Boys' Home under its wing and
has launched a project to help it, he says.
biggest tribute, however, has come with the formation of an Old
Boys' Association by the boys from the home who have integrated