Unawatuna, Sri Lanka. Orphans International Sri Lanka, an affiliate of Orphans International Worldwide, was founded in Sri Lanka following the Tsunami.
The organization, to help Sri Lankan children, was built in memory of Dr. Cresenta Fernando, a Sri Lankan native who worked for the World Bank in Washington and who perished in the Tsunami of 2004.
For the last year, the NGO staff have worked and trained in community center of a village called Kathaluwa. This ocean-side village sits about 30 minutes south of the city of Galle in the Southern Province.
Today, now fully trained, the staff are beginning their own program for the children of Unawatuna, about 15 minutes south of Galle. For the first year, they will be hosted by the local Buddhist temple.
Perched on a hill overlooking beautiful Unawatuna Bay, the temple is at peace. Several years ago it was far more chaotic. It was where the survivors of the Tsunami fled -- up the hill -- to seek protection following the Tsunami.
The author meets the children of Orphans International in Unawatuna.
The program has about 60 boys and girls already involved. Fourteen of them are orphans from the Tsunami that the group has worked with.
The staff of Orphans International in Sri Lanka have been trained now for three years.
About 60 children and that many adults gathered for cake.
They include two brothers: Buddika Bandera, local director, and Indika Bandera, a global officer of Orphans International Worldwide presently assigned to Sri Lanka.
The idea for Orphans International Worldwide began when I adopted a son from Indonesia in 1995, and was traumatized by the 199 children I left behind.
Officially, OI Worldwide began in 1999 -- this year is the association's tenth anniversary. Coincidentally, my fiftieth birthday.
I helped pass out pastries to children who had witnessed the Tsunami.
My mother challenged me at the age of forty to begin a "better way" of taking care of children, which today is both our "small-homes" model and "family-care" model.
My mother then died, and proceeds from her estate went into implementing our project, now operating is Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Our first homes -- in Indonesia and Haiti -- opened their doors to children in need in 2001.
I spoke to the kids in English and staff translated into Sinhala.
That year we were incorporated as a non-profit organization in the U.S. for the purpose of raising funds for and educating the public on the plight of the poorest of the poor: orphaned and abandoned children in the developing world.
Orphans International Sri Lanka began following the Tsunami when an American family, the Cohen's, cared enough about a lost Sri Lankan son-in-law to begin a program for children in his memory.
The Tsunami hit Unawatuna directly, and many of its survivors made it to the Buddhist temple overlooking the sea. That is where OI Sri Lanka is now based.
John Lee was the first international director of OISL. Based in New York, but originally from Malaysia and Singapore, John devoted two years of his life to training Indika and Buddika Bandera. These two brothers now head the program by themselves.
The organization's first program was held in Kathaluwa, where OISL staff and overseas volunteers trained with local staff to teach computer, English, and vocational training to the children.
After one year, OISL has moved all of its resources now to focus on the village of Unawatuna.
Here, we will offer Orphan International Worldwide's "Family Care Model" -- providing the extended families with the resources to be able to keep a child in the family. Small funding for school uniforms, books and food is given to the aunts, uncles, or grandparents.
The adults of Unawatuna are delighted that OI will offer programming.
The mission of Orphans International Sri Lanka -- as for all OI associated projects -- is to help orphaned or abandoned children grow into solid citizens of the world.
OI's approach, as I wrote ten years ago, is:
Interfaith, because there are many paths up the mountain; Interracial, because there is but one race - the human race; International, because our neighbors are our family; Intergenerational, because there is much to learn from our elders; and Internet- Connected, because the world today is at our fingertips.
Inside the hillside temple is an intricately carved wooden alter.
The Buddhist temple has served the Unawatuna community for about 300 years. It enjoys tremendous support from the village's 30,000 residents.
The senior monk attended my welcoming party. At 70, the venerable Matara Kusalagnana is a wise and particularly soft-spoken man.
Orphans International Sri Lanka now overlooks Unawatuna Bay.
The OI projects around the world have received funding from Newman's Own, the Red Cross of Monaco, and individual support. Sponsorship of a child can be done by writing firstname.lastname@example.org. Costs are $50 per month.
Orphans International is associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information.
All children in the care of Orphans International must be given the same love and security that each of our team members would give to our own children. The rule is named after my adopted son, Mathew, now 15. He surprised me recently by stating he wished to move to Sri Lanka, study Buddhism, and teach computer skills to our kids there.
Giving children a chance to grow up and explore their world is what Orphans International is all about.
Photos by Indika Bandera. Transportation courtesy of Air France.