Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A little hope in the jungle

Il Sette Bello is back. Where were we? The wondrous island idyll of Sri Lanka. As I mentioned in a previous post, we went to the tsunami-decimated area along the southern coast to pay a visit to a pre-school that our friends here in Rome funded a year ago. Our mission was to see where we could help out, and check on the progress of recent construction.

The first glance was a bit daunting. There was a gaping hole in the outer wall of the second-floor classroom (since patched), the bathrooms were little more than cement out-houses, senza plumbing, and the third floor lacked a roof. But all was forgotten for a few minutes on the morning of Jan. 8 when 65 hip-high three- and four-year-olds registered for their first day of pre-school. We were greeted with a bouquet of tropical flowers and giant smiles. So giant you'd think these little tykes would topple over, mid-grin.

At an opening ceremony, the kind-hearted monk, Anomasara Thero, introduced us to the parents and children in Sinhala. The older students (age 4) then sang for us an old favorite, their ABCs. Their little routine (pictured) was paralyzingly cute. Yours truly stumbled through a brief speech that nobody understood. I told them there's a lot of people, half a world away, determined to see this generation grow up in a more hopeful world. Their beaming smiles convinced me we'll all be okay.

Afterwards, we talked to the teachers and monk, trying to assess what the community needs to keep the school running. The answer? A lot. Well, a lot for the locals. Not much for us here in the West. (I'll get to that in a minute.) All the kids come from extremely poor families. They are the sons and daughters of fishermen, seamstresses, or, if they're lucky, tuk-tuk taxi drivers. The literacy rate is terribly low, and their economic prospects are bleak. Without a grasp of English, many of them will have few job opportunities, and little hope of crawling out of poverty. This is the sad truth. That's why the school is so important. It lends a big hand to some very little souls.

We've determined that roughly 15 euros ($20 or £10), will equip one student per term with the materials and uniform needed to attend class. When I say "equip" I mean everything. The school provides for the students their shoes, socks, shorts and shirts, books, pens, etc. If we didn't, they'd simply go without. That's how much difference a small donation would make. More ambitiously, we'd like to finish the bathroom (running water would be nice) and maybe purchase a copy machine and basic music instruments for these tykes.

Please give the site a look, and let us know if you might be able to help them out. We'd be grateful. And so would they.

(More photos to follow)

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