Guest post by Alan Elliott
San Francisco Bay Area native Alan Elliott is taking time out from his master’s degree studies at the University of California San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to pursue a 10-week internship in ChildFund’s Sri Lanka office. He is regularly blogging about his experiences.
The foggy countryside of Nuwara Eliya is unlike anything I’ve visited in the world. Experiencing this area is akin to traveling Tolkien’s shire — winding roads through beautiful tea plantations (home to the world-famous Ceylon variety), dotted with waterfalls, streams and cloudy peaks.
But amidst the serene beauty, not all is picture perfect. Access to education and basic resources can be meager. That became clear to me when I saw the old day care center in Clarendon — dusty and dilapidated with no room for children to grow or play.
In 2009, the Clarendon Lower Division Crèche, like many other day care centers and educational facilities in the remote areas of Sri Lanka, was no place for a child to learn. As is common in the high hill country of Nuwara Eliya, there was no access to clean water and no sanitation facilities. It was no safe haven for children, either. On one side of the center was a road frequently traveled by industrial vehicles and motor bikes, presenting a constant danger to children at play. On the other side was a poor neighborhood, exposing children to the sights, sounds and emotions of extreme poverty and desperation that a crèche should allow children to escape.
Wasanta, mother of 4-year-old Sumitra, explains the hopeless situation in Clarendon at the time. “We didn’t like the old building,” she says, “but we had no choice, there was no other place to go.”
The Clarendon estate is particularly isolated. It takes almost an hour by bicycle, mostly uphill on a slippery and unpaved road, to reach the next nearest estate.
In 2010, ChildFund and its partner, T Field Federation, provided building materials for the new Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) center in Clarendon, with the goal of providing a secure learning environment easily accessible to local families. The local estate management group agreed to build the center.
It’s situated along a sunny hillside, with colorful flowers and paintings lining its walls. At last, the children have an ideal place for learning. “The new building is not only beautiful,” explains Pakyawathi, head crèche attendant, “but it also has all the proper sanitation facilities and is far away from the roads and separated from the community.”
Since ChildFund helped open the new center, attendance at the crèche has increased from 25 to 40 children, all age 5 and younger.
The new ECCD center stands in stark contrast to the old one. In this airy facility, the vistas of Nuwara Eliya complement the bright minds of the children, who now have a safe and secure place to learn.
ChildFund also upgraded the learning and art materials for the center. Now children have the tools and resources they need for creative and emotional development. “Sumitra loves the new materials,” her mother notes, “and she has become very fond of singing, playing and giving speeches.”
The world suddenly looks brighter for these children.