Spreading Hope in Rural Sri Lanka

February 12, 2024by Shahinaz Matheen

Igniting Hope through the Gift of Education, Because Every Wing Deserves to Soar.

As the country struggles to rebuild amidst a grappling economic crisis that appears to shift from bad to worse, poverty levels have increased, consuming the majority of Sri Lankans as families struggle to secure their meals, let alone invest in educating their children.

Though a free education system exists in Sri Lanka, students still require the basic stationery to reap the benefits of this free education. Unfortunately, tax hikes and the skyrocketing cost of living have burdened families to a point where the cost of books and school supplies has tripled in price. Tax hikes combined with pay cuts are affecting even the moderate-income-generating families in the suburban areas of Sri Lanka, while families in rural areas who were already in despair have fallen to the brink of breakdown.

As part of our initiatives to break the poverty cycle through education, and our strong belief that every child deserves a chance to receive an education to soar towards their dreams, the WAO Group team in Sri Lanka, guided by Marlon and Jeri Wambeek, set out to fulfil the dreams of 195 innocent children. And, this time, we set out to the farthest part of Anuradhapura.

Also known as a sacred city, Anuradhapura is situated in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. Known to be among the worst-affected areas of CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease), many families survive on farming, which is challenging as the city is situated in the dry zone and their only source of water is through the tanks that were built by the ancient kings. In addition, the villagers are constantly at risk of their crops being destroyed by wild elephants, which leaves them battling many socio-economic barriers that are robbing them of any remaining hope of educating their children.

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In an attempt to bring the much-needed Change for Betterment, we set out on the 4th of February, 2024 to the town of Palugolla Wewa, 46 km inland in Anuradhapura, with school supplies for 195 students of A/Dharmapradeepa Vidyalaya.

The journey began at 5 AM, and we reached the school five and a half hours later, where smiling faces filled with excitement awaited to warmly greet us. The school grounds were bustling with shy and excited children ranging from 6 years to 16.

Guided by one teacher and a kind-hearted couple Mr. Shelton and Mrs. Olga,  the senior students rushed to assist us in taking the book bags into the small room that was set up as their auditorium.

It was sad to observe that the majority of students had no shoes and wore a pair of rubber slippers, some worn out, and the uniforms of most were stained and discoloured due to overuse.

The distribution ceremony commenced with the Principal of A/Dharmapradeepa Vidyalaya welcoming us and conveying his gratitude to Marlon and Jeri Wambeek, as well as Tina Perera and the rest of the Sri Lankan Team who travelled over 280 km to bring hope to the children. He further went on to explain the plight of the families and the challenges the students faced not only due to poverty but also due to the lack of resources and alcoholism. The school being situated in an area where water and electricity were luxuries many could not afford, they lacked teachers as well.

The most anticipated book distribution commenced with the students of grade 1 being called up on stage to receive their books and supplies. But little did they know that we had a surprise ready for them. Along with the school supplies, we took boxes full of yoghurts and chocolates sufficient for all the students. It was heartwarming to see the gleam in their eyes when they realised what awaited them.

The joy and excitement were palpable, and the emotions that were visible in those innocent eyes brought us an immense sense of joy and fulfilment that words fail to express. As each child took the book bag and the treats, they went and sat back in their respective chairs and immediately started to enjoy the yoghurt and the chocolates, enjoying every mouthful.

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Once the books and goodies were distributed, the senior students gifted us with beautifully hand-crafted cards as tokens of appreciation. The cards were composed in Sinhala; however, the meaning of one card, once derived, meant “In a world where humanity is scarce, and at a time when the nation is ablaze, with poverty drastically increasing and consuming people all around us, it seems that we have been forgotten. Yet, you reign as a king of kings in this human world with your acts of kindness”.

After excitedly talking with us and clicking a few photographs, we were hosted to a delicious meal, consisting of home-grown corn and manioc with an onion and chilli paste, some homemade sweet treats, and a refreshing drink made with hibiscus flowers.

After our hearty meal, we left to visit the nearby temple with Ms. Olga and her husband Mr. Shelton, to distribute another seven packs of books for students of a different school. These packs were donated by our WAO staff members Manuvidya Jeevakumar, Madura Perera, Georgia Wambeek, Musthaq Sadique, Aravindhi Fernando, and Azmara Imbram as self-contributions.

Once we completed the distribution, we then visited the humble home of Ms. Olga and Mr. Shelton where we learned more about the hardships of many villagers, including themselves, who were living a life with no electricity, where they had to travel far to purchase drinking water and sustenance was mostly based on what they cultivated at home.

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As always, this was yet another eye-opener and a reminder of how much luxury we enjoy without even realising the blessings that we have in terms of comfort and care. How some societies suffered with poverty desperately needing a beacon of hope, while others lived a life of privilege and comfort. 

If only we could open our eyes wider and look at the world with more compassion. If only we could unite as one to provide sustainable solutions to ensure a future where no man goes hungry, a future where no child is deprived of a quality education, where basic needs are met, and human rights are secured.

A special thank you goes out to Ms. Olga and Mr. Shelton who were the kind-hearted couple that informed us of the children’s need for school supplies, who also helped us immensely liaising with the school, and to the WAO teammates who contributed the additional packs of school supplies and also to our team that made this project a success. But most of all to our founders, Marlon and Jeri Wambeek for their guidance and support.

Ending our journey on a positive thought and a hope for a better tomorrow, let us remember that every child, regardless of their background, deserves the opportunity to spread their wings and soar to new heights. It is through initiatives like this that we can build a brighter future for generations to come, where education is not just a privilege but a fundamental right for all.

Let us join hands in making this not just a dream, but a reality for all!