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 Post subject: Sanhinda - A home for street children
 Post Posted: Sat Jun 24, 2006 11:19 pm 
Sanhinda - A home for "street children"

Growing up among the lowest stratum of society, among the beggars of Colombo drug addicts and prostitutes, "street children" have not much in common with those children who receive care, love and kindness from parents or guardians. The street is their life.

By Lakshmi de Silva
@ The Island / June 2006

The street lights were eerily dim and the street was deserted at that hour. The child was one and a half years old. Growing up among the lowest stratum of society, among the beggars of Colombo, the child was being fought over, dragged by many hands. He was valuable for drug addicts on the streets, for a night's carnal pleasure.

This is not an isolated incident. Named "street children", they have not much in common with those children who receive care, love and kindness from parents or guardians. The street is their life.

An undergraduate at the time, Dr. Sunil Rajaneththi researched on Colombo city's beggars and sex workers and saw the plight of children on the streets. He suggested to his Professor, Nandasena Ratnapala of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, that they should provide the children a safe place to stay at, to save them from a cruel destiny.

This was the beginning of Sanhinda, a home for children, who were being sold and used as prostitutes. That was in 1996, ten years ago. Since they were working with sex workers they managed (although with difficulty) to convince them to bring their children to a centre where they could live like ordinary humans. It was decided that the home would accommodate male children only.

But where were these children to be housed? How were they to be taken out of the iron grip of the street, whoich had the protection of the underworld? Ratnapala and his students had to think very hard but they were prepared to take the challenge. A benefactor was found by chance.

"I was standing at a bus halt when a car stopped in front of me," Ratnapala said. "The person in the car, who seemed to know me, gave me a lift. It was Morris Rajapakse, a provincial councillor of the Western Province who became the chief minister, and a workaholic who finally died on his office chair working for others."

"When he asked me whether there was anything he could do for me, I promptly replied, yes, a place for my children of the streets."

He said that was the first assistance they received. Though it was like a garbage dump with rats running all over the place Rajapakse found space at Saunder's Place, Pettah, to house the children. The garbage and dirt had to be removed and the place made habitable. The students of the Sociology Department of Sri Jayawardenapura University and their parents came to help, and the Department of Social Services also helped.

"It was no easy task," Ratnapala said. "But a lot of people helped voluntarily."

"First of all we had to feed the children. But I was getting only a salary of Rs. 2,000 at the time. None of my students were rich. But traders in the Pettah markets agreed to give rice, vegetables, milk and sugar free of charge. And the students brought coconuts cracked by devotees at the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya to prepare the curries."

This was their first victory at Sanhinda, the new home. "We asked the traders whether they could make some extra cake or goodies when they celebrate their children's birthdays and send them to Sanhinda. So for the first time in their lives the children were able to taste some delicacies," Ratnapala said.

The next problem was how to admit the children to school. When university students tried to admit the childre into schools, the nearby schools were reluctant to take them in. However, when Ratnapala personally visited the schools and explained that these children should not be discriminated against, teachers and principals agreed to admit them.

At the beginning there were 23 children at Sanhinda. There was at last a light shining on these children who had hitherto seen only darkness. They now woke up in the morning, dressed, took their books and went to school. Years passed by. Some found jobs but more importantly they became good citizens.

The number of children rescued from the streets also increased. The children had to be moved to a more spacious building. The Social Service Department found a new home near Sri Dharmakeerthiyaramaya, Colpetty, within the precincts of Jinaraja Vidyalaya, one of the smaller schools in Colombo.

However, the space allocated for them was limited at this location as well. Another benefactor then came their way. Prasad Chandrakumar, a Sri Lankan living in Germany was told by one of his family members in Sri Lanka about the children at Sanhinda. His subsequent visit to Sanhinda marked a turning point for the institution.

He saw the plight of the children, who were packed into two small rooms with cloth lines hanging over them and very little room to live in and play. He decided that the children deserved more than that.

After nearly a decade of Sanhinda's establishment, new buildings with all modern facilities were going to be put up for them. Prasad donated half an acre of land at Meegoda in quiet and healthy surroundings.

His friend, Harald Schlarb of Germany, took the initiative to raise the funds needed for the new home for children. Several Germans also lent a helping hand, including the readers of a newspaper, Offentliche-Anzeige. They formed a project called Helft uns Leben to raise funds. Dagmar Schneider, a journalist who had visited Sri Lanka thirty years ago also joined the Sanhinda project.

Olaf Goebel was another person who took a great interest in the project, and provided 125,000 Euros (approximately 14 million rupees) to build the new Sanhinda Home at Meegoda.

The foundation stone for the project was laid on June 6 last year, and the buildings are now almost completed. The new home was opened last Saturday (June 10), by Ratnapala, the father of the project for street children.

"If another two homes for children like this could be built before I die I do not wish to go to heaven, because I cannot do any service from there," Ratnapala said.

"If I were to be born again I wish to serve people again. I would like to see one of the inmates of Sanhinda enter university and pass out as a graduate. This set of spacious and modern buildings was a fulfilment of one of my dreams."

Ratnapala was full of praise for Prasad, who, he said, considered the plight of these helpless children, and donated the land worth several million rupees and went to the extent of gathering his German friends to help these children.

"He is a man with a noble heart. If Sri Lanka has ten people like him we could help all the helpless children and people who deserve such help," Ratnapala said.

A number of organisations including the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization, Indian High Commission, Sri Lanka American Society, Hotel JAIC International, Women’s Guild and UNDP have helped Sanhinda in numerous ways. Among individuals who have contributed to making the project a success are Ven. Rathgama Upananda Thera, Sunil Rajaneththi, W. A. Sarathchandra and Ranjith Wilwaraarchchi.

Ratnapala evaluated his contribution to mankind, drawing a parallel to King Dhathusena, who, when forced by his son Kashyapa to show his treasures took the son to the Kalawewa, and said that the Kalawewa was his only treasure.

"Similarly if someone asked me what my wealth was I would show about 20,000 students I had taught," he said. "I have researched on beggars, sex workers and street children and I am happy and content that I have been of some service to them."

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