Compassion from the flames of blast for street children

Compassion from the flames of blast for street children

Indrakhilaya commemorates the 12th Anniversary of the Central Bank attack

Surrounded by a hillock there’s an extent of land at Meegoda. Over the hill is a building built at three different levels. This is the children’s home – "Meegoda Sanhinda Nikethanaya", where the Central Bank association, Indrakhilaya, commemorated the victims of the January 31, 1996 terror attack.

The 12th anniversary ceremony started with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp at 10.30 a.m. Ten boys from the Home welcomed the guests and the picture of Prof. Ratnapala Nandasena, the founder of the home, was garlanded.

Among the chief guests were former Central Bank governors A.S. Jayawardena and H.B. Dissanayake. A two-minute silence was observed at 10.43 a.m. to honour dead colleagues. An impressive sermon was delivered by Ven. Meegoda Mangala Thera. Then the little children performed the ‘Aloka Poojawa’ in a solemn manner.

Aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Central Bank in 1996

With the help of the "Senior Ladies Association" of the Central Bank, three toilets were built and a water tank was provided. Some beds and a computer were also donated. The Bank of Ceylon (BOC) also joined Indrakhilaya’s efforts to help the children. Arrangements were made to donate the BOC’s ‘Ran Kekulu’ savings accounts to the children.

After the ceremony the children entertained the audience with singing and dancing, thus proving that "environment is the deciding factor of one’s life.""Sanhinda Lama Nikethanaya" was the brainchild of Prof. Ratnapala when he was doing research on the street children of Colombo. He noticed that these children were conceived, born and growing up in the dirty streets. Their playground was the pavement. He also realized that unless these children were helped they could end up as criminals.

Moved by compassion, he viewed these children as dirt clad little buds of Olu, Nelum and Manel in their innocence. His aim was to shift them to an environment where they would bloom into law abiding citizens with beautiful characters. His vision was to give them a home where they would develop their physical, mental and spiritual faculties under the guidance and administration of trained people.

For this purpose he gathered a group of his former students, now teachers who could feel for these unwanted helpless children. A benevolent approach with a philanthropic mind can only perform such a noble task. In 1996 the ‘Meegoda Sanhinda Nikethanaya’ was built. Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara was appointed Chairman and Ranjith Wilwalarachchi Secretary. They are keen on transforming these children into people whom we will be proud of. The home has 42 boys and 20 girls. Developing their inborn talents and teaching them good moral values may help them to achieve successful future lives.

Yet the home lacks so many things. Ten to 12 days a month they receive alms for meals. It’s a struggle for the rest of the days. The girls who live in a rented house need a building of their own.

It is now upto the public to help make Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala’s dream come true. For further details contact Dharshana, Tel: 060 2173082 (Meegoda Home).

By Berney Fernando

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Major programme aims upgrading agriculture in rural areas

Major programme aims upgrading agriculture in rural areas

The Social Services and Social Welfare Ministry has launched a major programme to upgrade the agricultural activities in the rural areas and create self-employment opportunities for youth. The programme will be launched according to a concept of Social Services and Social Welfare Deputy Minister Lionel Premasiri, a Social Services and Social Welfare Ministry spokesman said.

He said discussions have already been conducted with several NGOs to obtain financial assistance for the programme which is aimed at producing compost fertiliser production and bio gas production plants. Arrangements have already been made to provide vocational training, computer training and English language training for unemployed youth.

A special welfare project will also be launched for street children soon. Lionel Premasiri Foundation and International Social Service Organisation jointly fund this project. Some street children are being used for robberies and similar crimes. Under the welfare programme the street children will be rehabilitated under three categories as non-schooling, school drop-outs and schooling street children.

Arrangements will be made to provide school education for non schooling street children and direct them to their respective religious institutions. School education will be provided for school drop-outs up to secondary level. Schooling street children will be directed to their respective religious institutions to discipline them.

The street children will be given their childhood back through organising children’s programmes, camps and other activities.

The second phase of ‘Nenasara Sisujaya’ scholarship programme will entirely be allocated for the street children. Police stations, Social Service Officers and other related State officials will be co-ordinating the project.

Several social services and social welfare programmes were conducted to mark the birthday of Deputy Minister Premasiri. Addressing the ceremony he said wanted to do social welfare projects to mark his birthday rather than going to Singapore or Bangkok like other politicians.

Away from the streets

Away from the streets

By Jeevani Pereira
The life of a child is most valued one in any society, yet everyday we prove ourselves capable of looking past the rights of the innocent and allow crimes against them to float past our busy days especially when it comes to the street child.

This horrendously exploited group of children who are believed to number more than 2000 are open to constant peril, a loss of innocence from as soon as they can walk and absolutely no opportunity at education. However, coming across ‘Sanhinda’ Street Children’s Home in Meegoda and ‘Varam’ centre for Beach Children (the streets of the sea) in Hikkaduwa, one would find that the beginnings of hope for some of them was not that far away.

Though idealised and run by two different personalities – Professor Nandasena Ratnapala and Professor Harendra De Silva, the common thread that binds the two places is the non-profit organisation Serendib Stiftung (Foundation) based in Hamburg Germany, which funds them.

Visiting ‘Sanhinda’ and speaking to its founder, world famous sociologist, Prof Nandasena Ratnapala a few weeks before his passing, we discovered a group of people trying their best to make a safe place for street children.

"There is hardly any human value for these children and most of them end up begging, peddling drugs, stealing car parts, getting into prostitution or being abused," said the professor. Showing us a fragile four-year-old girl with a blank look on her face, the professor said that she was a new arrival to the home and was initially brought abused in a brutal manner by a man who owned a shop close to where she squatted with her mother. "These children are extremely restless and constantly want to go back to their old lives until time slowly helps them absorb their surroundings with a little discipline and growing respect for what they have," he continued. With 66 children and growing he said that teaching values and skills was something that would take them into the future. He went onto say that at Sanhinda, the children are given extra coaching for all the subjects taught in school, plus music, dancing and painting is taught to develop their aesthetic instincts.

Before ‘Sanhinda’ came into being, the idea for a home came to Professor Ratnapala after he did a survey on street children in 1983. Along with some lecturers and students in the faculty of Sociology in the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, the Professor started up a small sanctuary for 26 male street children at Saunders place and was looked after by him and the others from the Sociology Department. When more notice came to what the Professor was attempting an old school building in Colpetty was donated to the cause and then later onthe land at Meegoda where ‘Sanhinda’ now stands.

"When we first started the home we used to go asking shopkeepers at Fort to give leftovers so we could feed the children, ," he explained. "With the Serendib Foundation noticing us in 2005 we have been able to go forward without fear, as the funds they give us are enough to feed, clothe, educate the children and run the place." Furthermore, a provisional birth certificate is prepared for most children that come into the Home after estimations of their birth dates are looked into .

‘Varam’ on the other hand acts as a safety net for beach children, a place of refuge for them to come and relax as well as learn. "The idea for it started during the days I used to be the Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority and came as a project proposal to the World Bank for the prevention of AIDS," Professor Harendra De Silva said. Thus six centres were started up in areas susceptible to AIDS, in Pettah, Payagala, Seenigama, Anuradhapura, Weligama and Polhena. "Most of these places are tourist areas and much like the street children in the cities, the beaches act as streets close to the coast. These children are susceptible to tobacco and drugs and sexual exploitation by various tourists," he explained .

"The idea of the centre is mainly to prevent such possibility for these children. It was made with the idea of attracting them," he said. However, the NCPA project fell through after the professor left. But determined to continue it on his own, he now runs it under his NGO ‘Varam’ and has three centres, including the one in Hikkaduwa. "Television and DVD as well as computer facilities are available," Prof De Silva said adding that vocational skills were also taught there for those interested. "We were scraping through in the beginning and after we received funding from various organization including Serendib, which solely funds the Hikkaduwa Centre."

Founding members of Serendib Foundation were Christian H. Eckert and Uriz von Oerzen who were both in the media field and they invited Lalith Ganhewa also a media personnel o join them to find a means to uplift a broken country after the tsunami. Christian and Lalith had spent one month in Sri Lanka soon after the tsunami travelling over 3700 Km visiting and checking out over 30 projects in order to discover the best ones to ultimately support. "We originally wanted to concentrate on women and children and worked with schools providing uniforms etc," explained Eckert adding that they decided to concentrate on children alone with the idea that they were ultimately the future of the country.

Therefore, coming across Sanhinda and Varam they found where their motives could be appropriately executed. "If normal children get a roof over their heads, love from their parents and proper education, street children deserve it, too," spoke Ganhewa.

Serendib Stiftung (Foundation) in Germany are funding a total of 6 Projects in Sri Lanka. Out of them Sanhinda and Varam Projects are implemented Sri Lanka through Nestwaerme e.V. Germany headed by a Mrs. Petra Moske, an award winning prominent humanitarian worker in Germany.
Nestwaerme e.V. Germany has specialized working with disabled and under privileged children. They support few other disabled institutions in Sri Lanka.

Dons turn masters of humanity for street children

Dons turn masters of humanity for street children

By Dhananjani Silva

It’s a new lease of life for a hitherto-neglected segment in society — the street children. At Sanhinda Children’s Home in Meegoda, street children receive the love, care and comfort which they had been deprived of and enjoy a happy, carefree existence. They are also given a decent education to face life’s challenges and guided to a promising future.

The Sanhinda children’s home is the result of a research project initiated by Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala of the Department of Biology, Anthropology and Criminology of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Dr. Ratnapala said that a survey conducted in 1991-1992 had revealed that there were about 2000 street children in the country, but regrettably no one was concerned about this neglected but highly vulnerable segment of the society. “We are always doing research but we hardly do anything to solve the problems we are confronted with. Therefore, when Dr. Sunil Rajanetthi, who was also involved in the project with me, was interested in doing something for these street children other than the research we decided to go ahead,” he said.

Children show their art skills. Pix by Athula Devapriya

The original idea was to set up a small place for these children to keep them at night as it is mostly during the night that these children are sexually abused. With the little donations that came their way, lecturers, students attached to the department and their parents joined hands to construct a small building at Pettah where lodging, food and clothes were provided for the children.

“One day, quite unexpectedly, a gentleman working in Germany came to us and said he would like to donate us a land in Meegoda to expand our venture. After that Lalith Gamheva and Christian Eckert of the Serendib Organisation, the funding agency, came forward to help us in a number of ways, covering areas such as food, health, education, discipline and skills,” Prof. Ratnapala recalled.

The implementing agency in Sri Lanka for the project is Nestwaerme e. V. — a foreign humanitarian organisation. The Serendib Organisation and Nestwaerme e. V. have opened up anothr centre — Varama — in Hikkaduwa. It functions as a drop-in centre for beach children.

When the children were first brought in, they had many illnesses and deficiencies due to the lack of proper nutrition, but with the assistance of the Serendib organization, they are now being provided with well-balanced meals. Apart from the formal education given in schools, instructors come in to teach the children English, mathematics, and science as well as dancing, music, arts, sports and scouting after school.

Prof. Ratnapala

To inculcate good morals and values, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism are taught. “Although most of the children here are Buddhists, we have no discrimination in teaching or practising any religion. Here we have Sri Sathya Sai Baba followers, too. After their A/Ls or O/L s they are trained in various skills such as masonry, carpentry, etc. Unless we give them this training to develop their skills, they end up becoming drug addicts and thieves,” Prof. Ratnapala said.

Prof. Ratnapala has a deep understanding of life and the problems of the beggar community, about which he gained first hand experience when he spent years on the streets disguised as a beggar gathering information. He subsequently wrote several books on beggars, drug addicts and prostitutes.

Shanhinda Home which was established in 1995 houses 63 children between the ages of 4 and 18. There are 17 girls among them with five staff members — three educational officers, an administrative officer and an officer in charge of the kitchen to care for them.

Most of the children are orphans. The parents of the others are allowed to come and stay at the home with their child on one day of the month as a guest if they wish, but are not allowed to take their child away even for a short while. “After they reach the age of 18, we find them employment and a place to live because by that time we consider the individual a grown-up,” he said.

“This is the first time that a university has done a project of this nature,” says Prof. Ratnapala adding that the university’s senior criminology lecturer Dr. Sunil Rajanetthi, Sociology Department head Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara, its former head Edwin Ginihagama, ASP Ranjith Dayaratne and Additional Secretary of the Sanhinda P Sivakumaran are also involved in the project.

The help they receive from the village community is immense, he says. Buddhist priests in the nearby temple as well as doctors and the staff of the Homagama hospital play a major role in giving assistance.

Professor Ratnapala has plans to extend the project to other parts of the country such as Badulla, Kurunegala and Talawakelle.
“What I want is for these street children to become good citizens and not to become drug addicts, prostitutes or criminals,” he says.

That the project is making a difference in the youngsters’ lives is all too evident. Sixteen- year-old Ramesh was brought to Sanhinda at the age of four when he was found idling at the Pettah bus stand. Today, on finishing his studies at a fairly satisfactory level, a joyful Ramesh tells us that he has found employment at a nearby bakery for a monthly wage of Rs. 8,500.

Like Ramesh, there were many other children, including the youngest member at the home Salman (aged 4). They told us of the happy life that they lead at Sanhinda where they get to sing, dance and play to their hearts’ content.

Scholarships for street children

Scholarships for street children

[September 09, 2004 – 11.00 GMT] 

Hundred and sixty-two street children were given Presidential Scholarships yesterday to mark the International Literacy Day.

At the launch of this scheme, ‘Nena Sarana’, for children the President said, “Literacy is not something that exists on its own, but something that is related to education. In today’s fast developing world, literacy is what keeps us on par with the rest.”

The children selected from the plantation sector, coastal areas and Kataragama, Ratnapura and Colombo would go through a rehabilitation programme before they are integrated in schools by January 2005.

Sri Lanka adopted the United Nations convention for compulsory education for children between the ages five to 14 in January 1998, shortly after the Compulsory Education Ordinance was enacted in November 1997.

Sri Lanka is among the countries that boast of having a high literacy rate. 

“With good rates of school completion and the strong government policy of achieving education for all, Sri Lanka is at an advantage when compared to most developing countries,” UNICEF country Representative, Ted Chaiban said at the gathering.

UNICEF chief further said that his organization is proud to be a partner in an initiative, and a support of the functioning of literacy centres for street and non-school-going children. 

President Kumaratunga praised the support of the UNICEF, the Education Ministry and the NGOs in making this scheme a success. "I believe that this scheme would brighten the hopes of these children for a better future,” President said. 

Deputy Ministers of Education, Mangala Samaraweera and Dinesh Gunawardena also attended the event held at the President’s House yesterday.

Colombo street children left in the lurch

Colombo street children left in the lurch
by Ananda Kannangara

"Both my mother and I were abandoned by my father when I was only 12-years-old and since then I have been doing odd jobs at the Pettah Manning Market," this was a part of a pathetic story related by Ranwalage Aruna Kumara, a 12 year-old boy living by the road close to the Technical College, Maradana.

When the Sunday Observer visited them at their makeshift hut, they welcomed us on the belief that we had come from a social service organisation to help them financially or by other means.

He said that more than two hundred families were living in the city of Colombo without a permanent shelter or a stable income.

He recalled his schooling days at Dematagoda and lamented that all his hopes for a better future were shattered at that time. "Thousands of children living in streets, like us, today are quite sure that none would come to their aid and their lives would finally end up on the streets," he said.

Statistics reveal that only a handful of street children are attending schools and a majority of them are in need of a permanent shelter and a stable income to continue their education. According to a recent research conducted by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), a majority of street children living in Colombo are under the age group of 13 years, without a fixed abode and stable income for their parents to nurture them.

It is also revealed that most of these children lived on pavements, bus-stands or under the shade of huge trees.

Despite living in abject misery, only a few of them receive benefits from the Child and Youth Centre, managed by the NCPA and located at No 9, Saunders Place, Pettah. It is open only for street children who wish to undergo vocational training in various technical work such as handicraft, fabric painting, printing etc. Fourteen-year-old Gunasiri Samarasinghe who lives on the pavement near the Borella Auyrveda Hospital junction, said he was a lottery ticket seller and his daily income was not sufficient even to meet the requirements of his mother and two younger sisters.

"My two sisters are attending school under difficult circumstances. Recently some officials from the Colombo Municipal Council came and removed our school books and ordered us to find shelter somewhere else," he said.

A. R. Munaweera, a senior official at the Social Services Department, said although problems related to street children were discussed at seminars and workshops, no one took any interest to visit them and listen to their grievances.

He said that seminars on "Street Children" were normally conducted by NGOs with the intention of obtaining more funds from foreign countries, but thereafter no action was taken.

The Majority of the Children in Sri Lanka Are Starving

Title: The Majority of the Children in Sri Lanka Are Starving

– 500,000 children are oppressed by the war.
– 1.8 million children are malnourished.
– 200,000 children are disabled.
– 60,000 children do not go to school.
– 15,000 street children exist.
– No survey has been done on the state of children since 1991.
– Sri Lanka signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991, but still Sri Lanka does not have a steering committee to put the requirements of the convention into practice.
– By the year 2000, 991 schools had been closed.

Surveys conducted by governmental and non-govenmental organisations (NGOs) have shown that more than half the population of children in Sri Lanka have become serious victims of the war or of malnutrition or have disabilities or have dropped out of school or are living on the streets. Out of a total population of 5.55 million children, 3.04 million children suffer from the problems above. The number of children directly oppressed by the war in the North and East of the country is about 500,000. These survey reports show that there are more than 1.8 million children affected by malnutrition throughout the country. Furthermore, there are about 222,000 disabled children in the country. There are also about 60,000 children of school-going age who do not attend school, and about 15,000 children live on the streets.

Although the situation is this bad, the government has not conducted any survey on the situation of children affected by the war after a similar survey was conducted by the Ministry of Plan Implementation. The commissioner of probation and child security, Ashoka Peiris, however, has shown that one child out of every 11 children in Sri Lanka suffers from these conditions.

Throughout the country, 60,000 children do not attend school; and according to the reports of the Department of Education, 991 schools had been closed by the end of the year 2000. Out of these schools, 187 schools were located in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Most of them are being used as refugee camps. Furthermore, an additional 50 percent to 60 percent of the school children in the Northern and Eastern provinces are said to have been recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for their armed forces. Although 4 percent of the child population in Sri Lanka is disabled, only 1.5 percent of them are assisted by the government and NGOs. Although the Sri Lankan government signed the CRC in 1991, not even a national committee for implementation of this convention has not been set up after 10 years.

According to this convention, the secretary of the Social Services Ministry becomes the ex-officio president of this committee, and the activities of this committee have to expand throughout the country in order to reach the divisional secretariat divisions. As a result of this requirement, legal provisions do not exist to sufficiently protect children in the country. Even when a child is raped, it is simply considered a case of rape against a woman.

Posted on 2001-10-16
Asian Human Rights Commission