Journal – Feb 6, 2006. By Pamela Porodo
After many hours of wondering what the best way to let readers know what is happening in the Work for Widows program, the team has decided that a journal would be a nice way to keep people informed.
So, over one year from the inception of Work for Widows; I try to start the chronicle and I wonder where to begin. To tell the whole story would take massive words and hours to read. To share all the memories would take just as long. So magical moments and memorable times are where we will begin. On January 17th, 2005, three weeks after the Tsunami, a group of volunteers was working in a camp in Moratuwa just outside of Colombo. In a temple where the camp had been formed, hundreds of survivors were being housed in horrendous conditions. Our task at the time was to ensure that the survivors were fed, clothed and treated for ailment caused by the massive wave that hit the coastline.
The monk running the temple was a gentleman that cared deeply for each person living within the walls. He approached us and asked for our help with a specific girl that was 6 months pregnant, she was hoarding medication from the other survivors and he could not get her to tell him why. We sat with her for many hours and finally the answer came. She was going to kill herself. This beautiful 21-year-old girl had lost her mother, father, husband and 3-year-old child in the Tsunami and without a home or family she was feared enough for her future that she felt her only option was to end her life and that of her unborn child. The medicine she had been taking from the others was pinned tightly in the inside of her skirt.
Without a plan of action, I promised her that we would help her and that we would make sure she had a job and a way to take care of herself and her child if she would give me the bag and stop her plans of suicide. Between her tears and mine, I left the camp holding the bag of medicine with a promise to return.
Driving back from the camp, we all sat in silence until I noticed a bead shop on the corner of a small hamlet just outside of Colombo and that’s when it came to me how to help this sweet soul. Within hours we had purchased all the requirements for her to start making jewelry and Work for Widows was born. Within a few days, we had 14 women in the program that had yet to be completely designed.
Now with over 130 women in the program that have learned to manufacture over 10 different products, we look back at the beginning and smile for as the old saying goes… “a child shall lead the way”. We are pleased to report that the young 21-year-old girl and her new baby are now out of the program as a marriage has taken place and a new family has begun. But she will always be our guiding light and our inspiration to go on.
Within weeks of the conception, we were making candles in Tissamaharama where another memorable moment took place. A widow of a safari driver that was killed in the Tsunami, perished by bravely trying to save people caught in the wave – came to see if we could help her and her children survive. Without a man to provide for them in this remote village, she faced poverty far beyond our imagination. Two days after we began teaching candle making, which by the way came from an old Girl Scouts book I kept from my children’s younger days; we found out that it was her birthday. We immediately asked our trusted companion, Lal; what a woman would get from her husband for her birthday. In his best broken English, he proudly told us that she would get a birthday-suit. After many giggles, we came to realize he meant a new outfit and so we set off into the main town to purchase an outfit that would have been bought for her if her husband had not perished 5 weeks before. Wrapped in the brown paper bag we had bought the outfit in, we presented it to her with a quick and out of tune version of “Happy Birthday” and as she opened the poorly wrapped package the tears began to flow, not just from her eyes but from all of ours. This year on the 5th of Feb, I was in Tissamaharama collecting candles and teaching a new craft of coconut jewelry accessory making and had the immense privilege once again of presenting this dear soul with the gift of a new “birthday-suit”.
If a success story was to be asked, it would be of our precious Renuka. Renuka was found living down by the river by one of our volunteers from Switzerland, Rebekka. Prior to the Tsunami, Renuka had faced poverty with her three children but at least she had a home for them to live in. The Tsunami took even that away from her. Forced with nowhere to live and no income, she gave her two oldest children, two beautiful little girls; to the state orphanage so that they could at least have food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads. We assisted Renuka in securing a rental home and placing her in the program teaching her to sew. A straight stitch was the first lesson and yet she needed to produce an item so the tea towel project came to life. Within three months Renuka was sewing handbags and earning a good living, enough for her to apply for the custody of her children and bring them home. Other than the birth of my own daughters and that of my grandson, I can not think of a more miraculous day then the day we went with Renuka to bring her girls home. It was dark when we finally arrived and the girls were excited to see their new home. We offered to bring some food in for dinner and Renuka smiled and told us that this was a day that she had dreamed of and she wanted to cook a meal for her three children in their own home. We left with the smell of onions being chopped in the kitchen and the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen. For Renuka, I felt thankful; from Renuka; I felt humbled. Each area and each place has so many memories, each smile and each tear will be forever in my mind. Pat, Michelle, Thilani, Naomi, Loren, Gail, Sue, Kumi, Gemma, Jane and each and every volunteer that has worked endless hours will forever be in my heart.