By Bernadine Rodrigo
Just a week ago, we saw the passing of one of the biggest festive seasons of giving, during which we all lent a hand to the needy. However, while we try to do more for others, we get easily distracted and lose focus of this aspect; we indulge in more commercialised and self-centred aspects exclusively offered during this season. We went berserk, as usual, over the amount of shopping we got done, which often resulted in us purchasing many unnecessary trinkets and items, and thus overspending.
At the back of our minds, nevertheless, we are quite aware that somewhere – perhaps not immediately around us, but most certainly somewhere – in this country, there are those who cannot even imagine spending as much as we do on random products like cookie cutters and wrapping paper on staple food and other basic items. We are very much aware that there are people in this country who can barely think of putting up a roof above their heads, let alone buy Christmas decorations and seasonal goods. Our country, regardless of how beautiful or which state of development it is in, is home to a great deal of people who live their day-to-day lives with what they can find and are therefore suffering terrible quality of life, below the national poverty line. To them, Christmas means nothing; they simply want to get through the day and feed their children something, so that they wouldn’t starve to death.
In early December 2019, Capt. Elmo Jayawardena, who is renowned in our country mostly for his service to the field of literature, witnessed and experienced this himself. The circumstance which made him see this was indeed very ironic, as his initial aim was to put an end to the help received by the people in question. As his story goes, he saw that a certain family that received aid through the charity project he is involved in has failed to hand in proof of their expenses, which they are all required to do, so that they may be given adequate help accordingly. Hence, he decided it was time to cut ties with this certain family as it seemed like either they did not need the money or were using it for another purpose, in secret. After he notified them of his decision, the oldest son of the family came to meet him with a few bills in his hand. Capt. Jayawardena recalls how his heart fell when he beheld the face of the boy. “He just had that look,” he recollects. When he compassionately asked the child to explain, he realised that the money was not in the least bit used for unnecessary purposes, but rather, in reality, it was not even adequate to fit the needs of this family.
To begin with, the patriarch of the family has been paralysed for 10 years and now is unable to work and earn for the family. Capt. Jayawardena said: “His mother looks after the patient and has managed a hand-to-mouth existence on charity for the last so many years. The family has no regular income. They are really poor. The mother works in nearby houses, cooking and cleaning, and makes around Rs. 500 a day. She too is sick with a bad leg.” This boy also has a younger brother and despite all their troubles, the two excel in their academic activities.
Their food and such expenses are taken care of by CandleAid Lanka, Capt. Jayawardena assures us. Their “Gift a Meal” and “Secret Santa” programmes took care of them and provided them with their basic needs. This is the purpose of charity organisations such as this – to give light to those in the dark, especially during times when the rest of the world is basking in joy and pleasure.
However, what Capt. Jayawardena would like to emphasise is very different. Accordingly, when he dug in a little deeper into the situation, this family had been in even greater need. “The father, when he was working, took a loan from a local bank, bought a six-perch land, and built a small house. The monthly payment of the loan is Rs. 6,000. Just to set off some of that loan, they sold half of the six-perch land. Currently, they have a balance of Rs. 220,000 to pay. Their house was in total shambles with holes in the roof through which water pours when it rains.”
This is why he came up with an idea outside of CandleAid; he sent out an email petition asking for help from those who can provide. This is when he witnessed the true spirit of Christmas, when people who don’t even reside in the country came together to donate in whatever ways they can – most of the time in large scales – and help this family. Here, he emphasises the greatness which can be achieved when people come together to help at least one small family. This can be observed when one witnesses the fact that the house is already being made with ample donations. Capt. Jayawardena says that the important thing is not getting stuff done through organisations, but simply coming together as individual human beings and achieving a goal for the good of humanity.
Nevertheless, the importance of organisations such as CandleAid Lanka and their programmes such as “Gift a Meal” must not be discredited at all, for if not for the organisation, this family’s story would never have surfaced. Therefore, what is truly important is the willingness of those who are better off to come to the aid of those who aren’t, and are in need of a helping hand.
•Our country is home to a great deal of people who live their day-to-day lives with what they can find and are therefore suffering terrible quality of life… To them, Christmas means nothing; they simply want to get through the day and feed their children something