Taking a home away from the homeless
By Marisa de Silva
The Paynter Home, to shut down? Not yet, but, it may be forced to soon, if its financial difficulties do not ease. The Home is sending an SOS to help keep this landmark institute open.

Founded in 1924, by Rev. Arnold G. Paynter, with the aim of providing a stable, secure and loving environment for children who are less fortunate and from broken homes, as well as those who have been orphaned or abandoned, the Home gives children a formal education and/or vocational training, depending on their needs.

Kathleen Paynter, daughter of the founder said that a third of those in the home, are street children, sent there by the Courts. Some had arrived with little or no education and socialization, she said. The 29 children now being looked after by the home are from different backgrounds and races and from a young age they learn to co-exist.

Although, initially all the children attended the Sinhala medium Government School, Paynter Memorial, founded by Rev. Paynter, now the Tamil children attend St. Xavier's School (for boys) and the Good Rest Convent School (girls), she said.

"Our most recent arrivals spoke only a street argot of Tamil slang, when they came," said Kathleen, adding that now however, their Tamil has improved significantly and they also speak Sinhala and understand English. Students having difficulty coping are given individual attention including tuition she said. The Home's most senior student will be sitting for her O/L this year and is receiving special attention to ensure that she has every opportunity to succeed, she said.

Studies apart, some of the children are given piano lessons, whilst others follow computer lessons. The Home's two-acre farm has been a source of profit, and it is this revenue that has kept the Home afloat for the past year, as income from other sources was not received. Manager Ravi Thangarajah expects to make a net profit of Rs. 300,000 from agriculture over the course of a year, provided he has the funds to put in the crops etc., says Kathleen. Unfortunately though, these funds are non-existent because all the farm revenues are being used to help the children. Expenses have risen over the years and it now costs Rs. 150,000 a month to run the Home, with as much as Rs. 80,000 being spent on food (about Rs. 72 a person, a day). Salaries of the eight staff members, school supplies and fees, children's medical expenses, clothing (particularly footwear) and maintenance, account for the rest.

A question asked from time to time is whether the Home has outlived its purpose. "It has not. It is just as needed today as it ever was, perhaps more so. Many of the children who seek refuge at the Home, are some of the most vulnerable. It is our goal to see them do well in life, so that the cycle of dependency and poverty is broken," Kathleen said emphatically.

"Mrs. Valesca Paynter (or "Aunty Val" as she's known by her young charges!), my mother, at 88 is still very much the heartbeat of the Home," says Kathleen. In the past, the Home received help from around the world, as well as from tourists who visited the Home, said Kathleen. However, over the past year or so, all that income seems to have dried up, she adds. Now, most foreign aid is directed towards particular projects, like, fixing leaking roofs and building a new kitchen. "While such projects are always welcome and appreciated, at the moment our priority must be to feed and maintain the children and pay the staff.” There has also been very little in the way of local donations to the Home over the past year, she said.

When the Pramuka Bank went into liquidation in 2002, it stripped away all of the Home, farm, and Mission's financial reserves, she added. Despite all the problems, the children are happy and thriving and they have been blessed with a united and dedicated staff, who have even given up some of their salary so that the children's needs could be met. Kathleen's fervent hope is that people will help the Paynter Home continue its work. The Paynter Home now has its own website at

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