The four teams -Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta- are on a mission. The team leaders rally their troops and carefully plot their next move. Ideas come in from all four quarters, mingled with shouts as arms flay the air. The leader listens intently and makes up his mind. “Malli oyage plan eka hondai”, he turns [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Developing skills for the outside world

At a training camp the children of the Vajira Sri Development Centre learn to face the world with renewed hope

The four teams -Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta- are on a mission. The team leaders rally their troops and carefully plot their next move. Ideas come in from all four quarters, mingled with shouts as arms flay the air. The leader listens intently and makes up his mind. “Malli oyage plan eka hondai”, he turns to one of his smaller comrades. Their mission – to lift a bucket of water using six strings and unload the water into another bucket.

Teaching them discipline and new skills

The ‘operation’ was part of a day-long leadership building workshop held last month for the children of the Vajira Sri Children’s Development Centre. Many of them have had difficult experiences stemming from the 30-year war, with their families being torn apart but have found a new life and renewed hope in the future with new brothers and sisters at this centre.

The scars of war may eventually fade, but for many like 32-year-old Dimuth Fernando, (Senior Sales Executive at Amana Takaful PLC), the memories of life hanging in the balance cannot be easily banished. Being one of the guest trainers for the day, Dimuth recalls that dreadful day in June 2008, when the Katubedda claymore mine blast claimed the lives of 21 civilians. Dimuth too would have been amongst the dead, but the stars were on his side as he overcame near-fatal injuries. “My liver had been split into eight, and I was losing 400 millilitres of blood per hour. The doctors gave me only a five per cent chance of survival,” Dimuth says. But he survived.

Dimuth says that the experience gave him a new perspective on reaching out to the victims of war. “Only after the incident did I understand the gravity of war, and any unpleasant experience of it is as bad as mine,” he mentions. “That’s why I wanted to dedicate a part of my life to helping children who have been unfortunate victims of the war.” Dimuth rallies the children around and tells them how he gradually built up confidence to face the world after his shocking experience, drawing parallels to the difficulties that many of the children present had to go through and how they too had overcome it.

Capt. Sumedha Mirihana, an ex-military officer having served in the Army for over twelve and a half years gave his guidance and expertise to the children in the training exercises. The ability to absorb instructions is greatly evident amongst the children, he said, urging them to reach their highest potential.

The arrangements for the training camp were made by Kanthi Perera, a social worker with more than 20 years of experience. Having joined the Vajira Sri Development Centre, six months ago, Mrs. Perera says that she felt the children needed to develop skills to face the world outside. “I felt a need to build their personalities and inculcate discipline and a sense of togetherness amongst them,” she says, adding that they hope to introduce cadeting and Girl Guides too, so that they will be continuously involved in leadership activities. Mrs. Perera also highlights the need to listen intently to these children as they have much to offer.

Twenty three -year-old Ravindra Dissanayake had been at the orphanage since its inception; he was a one-year-old baby when his parents left him at its doors. Today, he is following a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts at the University of Kelaniya and is one of the many success stories of the Vajira Sri Development Centre. Ravindra says he has never felt less privileged and in fact, took on the role of big brother to all the other children. He will always work for the betterment of the centre, he adds.

The leadership programme was followed by an awards presentation ceremony, with the Mayor of Colombo and Divisional Secretary as the chief guests. All in all, it was a heart-warming experience, as the children who are most in need were taught the right tools to equip them for the challenges life may throw their way.

History of the Vajira Sri Development Centre

Established after the 1983 ethnic riots, the Vajira Sri Development Centre came into being with 101 orphans from the Morawewa area being taken in by Divisional Secretary U. B. Vijayasundara. He was tragically assassinated leaving his brother, Chief Priest Ven. Dr. Hunupalagama Vajira Sri Nayaka Thera to look after the orphans. The Nayake Thera brought them down to Colombo.

For eight long months, he cared for them singlehanded, providing them with all the basic necessities. He enrolled the children into the schools in the vicinity, with the help of community service clubs. However most of the children were shunned by their peers at school and so the Nayaka Thera decided to begin a school of their own. This was how the Indrasiri Vidyalaya -where almost all the 150 students are schooling- was set up.

The majority of the children at the centre are orphans-victims of the war, the tsunami, others from broken families, or the result of unwanted pregnancies. “They come here from all over the country. They are initially brought here through the Probation Department,” the Nayaka Thera said.

As he talks of the arduous journey that the orphanage has come on, he is hopeful that they can go a long way. “We do not discriminate. We are home to Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu children whose roots are not forgotten. This unity will take us from strength to strength,” he says.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.