In September 2018, at the end of a 15-hour flight followed by an eight-hour/165 kilometres drive across Sri Lanka, I turned left off the main road onto a dirt track to meet my sponsored child. As I drove past salt water and weather-beaten brown faces in a local fishing village, I recall being filled with a cocktail of adrenalin, anticipation, excitement and apprehension. What if she is living in a slum with open sewers? What if she didn’t like me? Would she understand my broken Tamil with an Australian accent?
My butterflies eased somewhat when I saw the World Vision van. I was welcomed with hugs and handshakes by the World Vision team and was fed tastes of my childhood – mango juice cordial, Marie biscuits and Kraft cheese. I was home.
I heard a presentation on the program that World Vision had been undertaking for five years, to rebuild homes, families and a community devastated by war, famine, tsunami and poverty. Then, with hand-picked World Vision volunteer field staff, we spent two hours unpacking 100kg of books, toys and clothing donated by family and friends in Australia and created gift hampers for individuals in Yulaksi’s community. I had a rag doll for Yulaksi to mark her fifth birthday.
A tiny, dark-eyed Yulaksi welcomed me with a garland and a huge smile. She held my hand and we played. I don’t have children and was taken aback by the knowing look in her eyes and the way that she held my hand. She called me “Chitti” (aunty). I called her “cutti” (tiny). My dream had come true.
I embarked on this journey needing to see for myself how my money was being spent by World Vision. Where was it going and was it helping Yulaksi, or was it simply making World Vision richer? With the help of Clare from World Vision I made it to Sri Lanka and am amazed by what I saw.
Yulakis’s home was fitted with a water tank, complete with irrigation and glistening clean running water. No more would she accompany her elders to collect water from the well in 40 degree heat. She was wearing pretty-pink slippers to match her favourite pink dress. The seeds provided through World Vision grew abundantly in the garden. Tomatoes aubergine, beans… The chickens, also provided through World Vision, croaked happily in their pen. I was thrilled and relieved.
Yulaksi’s home was beautiful. She was incredibly proud of her front gate. A tantalising banquet was cooked for me. I climbed a mango tree for the first time since I was six. In that instant, I missed my grandfather and was homesick for my parrot and my own mango tree – all that I left behind at my humble home in 1984.