Today I went to see some children’s homes, inland (we had to get a ferry across the lagoon) in an old LTTE stronghold. They were reluctant to take me from the secretariat so I got this old lefty political activist to take me. He is part of some Hindu group that runs these homes. Anyway 4 of us got into the trishaw for the visit carrying food and school equipment that they give out to other single mums in the vicinity who are still managing to keep their kids at home, but need support, paid for by a swiss donor.
The Girls Home was in a lovely setting, if basic, paid for monthly by a Hindu temple in London. The boys home was a little more chaotic – no real manager or adult there. There’s a scarecrow type guard (a lot of skeletal men here in their 30s-40s – not enough to eat – worse than Africa in that respect, but it could also be the intense heat), a lady who comes in from the village to cook and a guy who works as a security guard in a bank and pops in between 5-8pm to check they are OK. He begs around for food, clothes etc. What was so striking about the boys was that many had left home by choice to stay there. No father, therefore no income so the expectation is they work to support the family. They chose to leave to have more chance of an education. Many were doing A-levels which is not that common here. They will go back home when they are qualified and have a job. I respect that as a choice.
Most of the girls were there because the father was dead from the war, accidents or had just left and the mums bring them in because they can not work and have no money. The girls also do not want to go back because they either get forced in to marriage too young (15) or are expected to carry the burden of running the home. 2 returnees had committed suicide recently. The culture just does not give girls a choice.
For example, culturally – if the local Hindu temple has a festival for 10 days, any female in the village menstruating has to be sent out of the village.
Of course I think about my own situation which was similar to those mums, but I just had options. I did get choked up once or twice – not because I thought the homes were bad – the children were obviously happy there, but because of culture and adult behaviour that led to it. The real orphans were in a minority.
Yet if I think back to fostering I guess in England we just have parents who are too messed up to look after their children properly which is worse.
There are complications about INGOs enforcing western style ‘looked after child laws’, but it’s too long to explain and I need to check it out more. I am not sure what I can write in the plan that may help.
The iron fell on my wrist tonight and I have got a nasty burn.
In Sri Lanka the Probation Service looks after children and visits homes once every 3 months. There are 40 children’s homes in the Batticaloa district supposedly catering for children between the ages of 6-18 although there were exceptions. The government pays 500Rs per child monthly in arrears except for boys over the age of 16 who only get 300Rs (sometimes this is yearly in arrears) and the homes are otherwise totally dependent on funding from faith groups or foreign investors. Of the 3 visited one received £650 a month from a Hindu temple in London and donations from a Swiss private individual, the others got by on local donations.
Development Plan Focus
Women need support to regain their cultural strength and their role at the heart of the family. It is the nature of Sri Lankans, as islanders, to constantly adapt to foreign influx. If tourism and small business development could be brought further in to rural areas and women could commute between rural areas and towns to get work they could earn enough to keep their families together.
Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013