Children home / by Daniel Maissan

When getting of the bus in Mankulam I’m lost. The bus stopped on the main road, not far from the railway station and I’m wondering why there even is a railway station. Mankulam seems like a few deserted shops on a go-through road and that’s it. I know I’m supposed to be here to visit the Good Shepherd Anna Children’s Home, a refuge for girls between six and 18 years old, but I have no idea where to go. After waiting for about fifteen minutes, my phone rings. Sister Jeyanthini is waiting for me at the other busstop that this village apparently has. It’s only right around the corner, not even 500 meters away from where I stand. When I enter the street, I see her standing there; traditional grey-blue sister clothes and a small pink umbrella as it just started to drizzle.

From her busstop it’s literally 300 meters towards the compound where the children’s home is situated. Barking dogs announce our entrance when we pass the gates and a statue of Jesus in front of the house welcomes me. Sister Chrishani will join us later that day as she went to the hospital in Jaffna with five of the girls. It gives me time to talk some more with sister Jeyanthini. “We are with the two of us, caring for 65 girls. All of them came here either through court or childcare. The official way. All orphanages and children homes in Sri Lanka are registered and monitored by the government.”

Most of the girls’ stories are sad. Sometimes their mother left their father and them and father couldn’t take care of them. Or their parents divorced and the mother remarried with a husband who already had a child. There was decided that the girls were just ‘to much’. Other girls simply don’t have any parents. All girls live with the terrible burden of a war that finished not that long ago, followed by a tsunami that wiped out many homes, villages and families. To top off the story, sister Chrishani informs me later that evening that about twenty percent of the girls in the house have been abused at some point in their lives. Even though all these stories are a lot to take in, I’m still struggling with the mere fact that their are just two sisters, running a children’s home with 65 often traumatised children; Twenty-four-seven.

At first the girls try to avoid me. Especially when I have a camera in my hand, they’re gone before I can even raise it to my eye. Apparently the girls weren’t informed of me being there in the first place. After I’ve been properly introduced by the sisters, luckily some of the girls can’t hide their curiosity. A good conversation is hard to have, as they only speak Tamil, but with sign language and the occasional help of one of the sisters, the children are opening up a bit. And when one sheep is over the dam… Most of the day I just walk around, sit and watch them do little household tasks, gossip or draw. There is no living room yet, so most children sit on the veranda or in one of the three large dorms, as it’s raining throughout the day. 

Dinner consists of some rice with a bit of sauce, made in a small makeshift kitchen as the real kitchen doesn’t function properly. The girls go to bed early and I have a bit more time to talk to the sisters and ask how they are managing. “It’s though”, sister Chrihiani explains to me,” We were only assigned here four months ago and a lot of the earlier fundings have dried out. The government pays us about rP 500 per child per month ( € 4,50) which doesn’t cover even a small part. But we trust in the Lord that He will show us the way.” It’s not even ten o’clock when I slide into my bed with the uncomfortable feeling of being completely powerless.

In the short time that I’m there, I help both sisters to make a plan on renovating the kitchen, using as much of the stuff that is already there. I portray every girl for a sponsor project that the Dutch Havonos Foundation has got planned and I stand on the sideline of the sports field, when the girls have their annual sports day at school. I notice how both sisters do their best to change the way the children’s home has been ran by their predecessor. No screaming or dictatorial behaviour, but giving the girls as much freedom as they can, combined with full responsibility for the daily life in their home. I’m overwhelmed and impressed. When I leave, most of the girls are in school again that day. Two of the girls that stayed at home helping the sisters, walk me to the train station.