Responding to the tsunami in January 2005, our first volunteer group rented a van and filled it with medical supplies, water purification tablets, flashlights, and even art supplies. From Kandy, Sri Lanka, we started driving to the east coast where the tsunami had devastated villages. What we found was equivalent to a war zone. Since schools are often the community centers, we asked where we could find the school. We were led to a sand crater where the school building once stood. The ocean had picked up the entire building and taken it out to sea, leaving nothing behind.

We soon made friends with the teachers and children, sharing the art supplies and drawings we had brought with us from Arbor School in the USA. We began helping with sanitation, drinking water, school supplies and addressing malnutrition. The children were malnourished before the tsunami due to poverty and we decided to build a kitchen where volunteer parents could prepare hot lunches. Because school attendance is mandatory to receive a meal, parents make sure their children are in school to receive meals. The program has raised school attendance by 25 percent. After serving 50,000 meals, the Sri Lankan government recognized the progress of our program and in June 2007, we were successful in transferring the program’s operation and funding to the government, which created local self sufficiency and allowed Community Friends to start new programs.

The experience taught us the value and importance of working in schools, where the opportunities for change are so great. We have since supported a remote school in Cambodia that provides a chance for poorest of the poor to learn language skills for employment. Part of our initial support was to simply buy clothes so that these children could attend school. The school promotes bilingual literacy to children, many with HIV. Multilingualism is a profound enabler of self-sufficiency and in the context of Cambodia, an outstanding alternative for young people who are looking for a better path forward. In December 2008, the school was in danger of closing due to the landlord needing to sell the land. A generous donor made it possible for the school to purchase its own land and now the school’s long-term future is assured.

 

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