“The more we come out and do good to others the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.” –Swami Vivekananda
In July this year, I was in Sri Lanka with my family to visit my ailing Grandma. This gave me an opportunity to visit Thilagavathiyar Illam for the 2nd time to meet the girls, especially Prabajini, the child I sponsor. Originally I planned to visit both orphanages managed by The Social Welfare Organisation (SWO). I contacted Ms. Sasikala Rameswaran, the coordinator of SWO to organise the visits. However this did not go according to the plan, hence I had to content myself with just one visit to Thilagavathiyar Illam at Thiru Pallugamam. This time the visit was very special to me as I had the opportunity take my family to the Illam, along with my two siblings and their family as well.
Getting to Thiru-Pallugamam from Batticaloa town usually takes about over an hours drive. It could be an exhausting trip, if you embank on a hot day. Most of the time the vehicles there have no air conditioning or the drivers do not turn the air conditioner on, in order to save on fuel cost.
Despite the unpleasant drive, the shade of the mango tree that greets you when you enter the Illam and the cool breeze that comes from the nearby lagoon makes you feel at home instantly.
It was interesting to see the reaction from the girls; they were excited when they saw myself and the other visitors. I am no longer a stranger to most of them; the reaction from many of them was as if they have met their elder brother after having been away for some time. They came running to me, held my hand and said “vanakkam anna” (greetings brother). Some of them went missing for a few minutes and then emerged in their best attire. It was school holidays; hence most of them were just relaxing at the Illam. We spent some quality time talking to them on a one on one basis, whilst enjoying some cool water from the goblets to ease our thirst in the hot weather.
My children and my nieces turned out to be the biggest attraction for the girls. They were happy to see children of their age, although my children were younger than most of the girls at the Illam. The most important event for both my wife, Kumary and I of was meeting Prabajini.
When I visited the Illam last time Prabajini was not present, as she had gone to Colombo to attend a drama competition. It was a very special feeling when we met her and hugged her. Before we went, we told our children that they are going to meet an akka, so they were excited to meet Prabajini as well.
The girls then quickly gathered together to perform a mini talent show displaying their various talents. They re-performed a play they staged at the Samurdhi competition in Colombo. It was a great pleasure to see their aesthetic skills. This was followed by a sing a song session. What caught my attention was the girl who was playing the drum; she played it so well. I am sure young talents like this could be further developed with some additional coaching and providing them opportunities to show case their talents. Fortunately they have “bajan” at the illam every week, hence they get the opportunity to develop their vocal skills and practice drumming. The girls performed so impressively that my youngest daughter, who turned three in September, still remembers the verses of the song “surangani”, which was sung by the girls.
At the end of this session it was time for the visitors to show case their talents in response. My nieces performed a dance and sang a couple of songs, which was followed by a song by my son and daughter.
After spending the time with the girls, we went around the Illam to see the facilities. Within the compound nothing much had changed physically within the last 9 months since my last visit. The most significant change at the Illam could not be seen with my eyes, but I could only feel it within my heart. That is, the girls were much happier this time around than when I first met them. In my view this is because they feel that they now have a group of people who care about them, even though they are far away from them. Each and every girl I met asked me about their sponsor, they asked me if I knew of them. I knew some of them and unfortunately I did not know most of them. However, what was very evident to me was that each member of the, Fund for Mahalir Illam is a hero for these children. I cannot quite describe the joy in each child in words; this is something one could only experience. This is an important part of their psyche, which they had lost early in their childhood. The feeling that someone cares about them has given them a special feeling in their heart. No body least cared about their birthdays before, now the birthdays are celebrated. The members may not realise this, but when I realised how special you are for these children, it brought tears to my eyes.
The matron and the senior girls were very thankful for the fridge and the beds donated recently by the Fund. All this time, they were just sleeping on the floor on a mat, or on bare floor. Now they will have their own bed to sleep in. These beds are now ready for use.
The most important need they have at present is proper toilet and bathroom facilities. Recent torrential rain had affected some of their existing facilities. Since the weather is hot during most part of the year, the buildings require better ventilation and probably ceiling fans in working order. As you can see from the pictures, roofs of the buildings are quite low, which doesn’t help proper air circulation.
In my view, lockers or cupboards to keep the personal belongings of the children and study tables are essential requirements.
Apart from providing the basic facilities to the children, I strongly believe that providing extra training in life skills, leadership skills, music etc would help them to develop their personality and thus become balanced adults in society. This is important to prepare them for life outside the Illam.
At the moment there is a sense of uncertainty among the girls who are fast approaching the time to leave the Illam. I request that the Fund for Mahalir Illam give some thought about this group of girls who will be leaving the Illam in the near future.
Reflections by Radha Mayalagu
Member – Fund for Mahalirillam