BPWSL helps families by channelling aid through funding, housing and  nutritional provisions for them By Tharooshie Mahahewage  Before the “Change” G.P. Somawathi and D.P.L. Somawardene lived in a mud hut with their three daughters. She worked at the local gal wala to help break the stones into smaller pieces. But, years of work came with [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Spearheading ‘Change’


BPWSL helps families by channelling aid through funding, housing and  nutritional provisions for them

By Tharooshie Mahahewage 

Before the “Change”

G.P. Somawathi and D.P.L. Somawardene lived in a mud hut with their three daughters. She worked at the local gal wala to help break the stones into smaller pieces. But, years of work came with a cost- the constant dynamite explosions made her deaf. Yet she continued to work there as her husband was an invalid- after knee surgery. They only had one dream, to educate their three daughters.

All three daughters were duly given in marriage and they went to live with one of their daughters, D.P.L. Niluka Chandani.

Married to H.A. Anura Samantha, Niluka has two sons aged 13 and 10. Together she and her husband and wife work hard to feed her parents as well as their children – she’s a daily house help and he finds odd jobs. When Niluka found herself expecting a third child, she did the only thing that her conscience allowed her. She prepared herself to give the little child for adoption as soon as it was born and confided in the mistress of the house where she was working about her decision.

The “Change” baby

Her employer, Mrs. Janaki Gunawardena, founder of Business and Professional Women of Sri Lanka (BPWSL) as well as the chairperson of the project “Change” knew the hardships of the family and therefore made arrangement for the child to be given to the Mother Theresa Orphanage. The Change took place when the child was born. It was a beautiful and healthy baby girl who smiled her way into a world of hardships and poverty.

The baby was also the cause for a ‘Change’, in her family, her village and her brothers’ school. This was because, Mrs. Gunawardene on behalf of BPWSL offered to sponsor baby Ayushi Liana Hapuarachchi, who now affectionately addresses Mrs. Gunawardene as “mamma”. 

The “Change” which took place

January 7 marked an important day in the lives of Niluka and Anura. It was the day that BPWSL handed over the keys to their new house built in Salawa, Akarawita through the funds of kind hearted donors. Chief Guest at the event was the President of BPW Switzerland, Ricarda Harris. The house consists of three bed rooms, a pantry and attached toilet and is valued at Rs. one million. An attached room built in will be used as a fruit shop which will provide a steady income for the family. The initial capital for the shop was provided too. 

In need of assistance: The Pahala Hanwella Kanishta Vidyalaya. Pix by Nilan Maligaspe

This is the 12th house that BPW has built in the area. They have also built 150 houses in the village of Illuppitiya, Minneriya

The school which Niluka’s two sons attend, Akarawita Maha Vidyalaya was where the project phase of helping school children began. Although there are about a 120 children on-roll, only about an average of 80 would report to school daily of which only about 35 would be boys. The main reasons for this are that most boys would go to help their parents at work while the girls stayed home to look after the younger siblings. These children need subsidies to attract them to school in order to obtain at least basic education. A daily glass of milk is provided at mid-day courtesy of BPWSL. 

Currently BPWSL has undertaken the care of 10, 000 children across 7 districts such as Colombo, Galle, Matara, Monaragala, Nuwara Eliya, Matale, Anuradhapura and since recently, Ampara with a glass of milk, school stationery and uniforms.

Another school which is supported by BPWSL is Pahala Hanwella Kanishta Vidyalaya also known as the “Walauwatte iskole”. Built by politician, Philip Gunawardene and his wife, only the less fortunate parents opt to send their children to the “game iskole”. This is because, even the little money they have, parents who want to educate their children will send them to the school in town. 

“There are many talented children in my school who have obtained various divisional and all-island prizes,” says the principal of the school Mrs. M.R. Dayantha Nandani. “Since we are off the main road towards the village, our school is a hidden school. The children in this school have never been outside even on an educational trip as their parents don’t have any money to spare. We don’t have a wall or fence around our school so cattle and dogs are a frequent menace. Many of our children have been infected with lice and even ticks due to this,” she says.

Villages take the shortcut right from the middle of the school grounds. “I want to make this school attractive so children would like to come to school. By building a wall around and getting the children to paint them the school will be eye-catching. School has to be a safe, pleasant as well as a fun environment and I’m trying my best to bring this school to have a 100 per cent attendance rate,” she said with a tear in her eye.

Project “Change”

Business and Professional Women Sri Lanka (BPWSL) was founded by Mrs. Janaki Gunawardena in June 1993 with a few committed and like minded women with the aim of raising the status and quality of living standards of women in Sri Lanka. It is affiliated to the International Federation of Business and Professional Women which has a membership of 125 countries and has Category One Consultative status with all UN Organisations.

“Change” is the holistic approaches of helping under-privileged children reach their potential with the aid of the collective capabilities of the BPWSL. The initial phase of this project is to set up the necessary funding and nutritional provisions for a stable education for these rural village children. The next phase is to help the families of these children with the knowledge and guidance of the BPW to develop their skills and through that, find a source of income and become self sufficient to create a more stable background for their families. 

“‘Change’ means to be a mentor for one rural, underprivileged child,” says Mrs. Gunawardena. “This is done by providing him/her advice, stationery, school bag, a pair of shoes, dry rations and a basket of new/ nearly new clothes and a glass of milk every day. The contribution does not exceed Rs.12, 000 a year, which is a Rs. 1000 per month and you have the advantage to know that you have provided food, clothes, and stationery for a needy, rural child.”

“We have always been collecting and donating,” says a teacher of Wycherley International School, Indra Puvimanasinghe who participated in the house warming ceremony with five students of the Art Society. “Every year we collect books, clothes, uniforms and other materials like curtains or furniture to be given to them.”

“We have simplified the donation method into packages so that those who don’t want to sponsor a child can still participate,” says Mrs. Gunawardena. Education or ‘Bhuddiya’ will include an entire booklist with a pair of school shoes and a school bag at Rs. 6, 000. Clothes or ‘Wasthra’ covers the cost of new clothes at Rs. 3, 000. The third, named, Vitamins and Minerals or ‘Jeewaya’ includes the cost of essential drugs and vitamins as well as medicines that are asked by hospitals to be purchased outside at Rs. 2, 000. Gainful skills or ‘Rakhiya’ includes introducing vocational training skills and tools to the parents of the children at Rs. 3, 000. The final is Recreational activities or ‘Kreeda’ to enhance reading, indoor games such as chess and carrom and also training them in dancing, music, etc at Rs. 3, 000.”

Business and Professional Women of Sri Lanka can be contacted on 0777820502 or visited at No. 25/2, Ocean View Tower, Station road, Colombo 04. Cheques should be drawn to in favour of Business and Professional Women Sri Lanka- account number 007 2060 492, Bank of Ceylon, Bambalapitiya.

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