At the end of an interview with a girl child (Sinduja) in Jaffna (northern Sri Lanka) who has been in a children’s home and been reunified with family by Save the Children, I asked her to ask me any questions that she might have. She had only one question;
“Why didn’t you come to get me out of the children’s home earlier?”
Honestly, I had no answer. I was totally dumbfounded. I apologised to her for the delay. I told her about the hundreds of other children we have reunified with families in the rest of the country. But, even now, I have no answer to her question.
It’s true that our work is location and project based and we cannot cover all six million children in Sri Lanka. But for someone like Sinduja who had to spend years in the institution yearning to go home, none of it would matter.
She shared with me her timetable in the children’s home:
4am – Wake up and pray and do chores such as cleaning, sweeping and working in the kitchen
5am – Bathe , get dressed, study and go to the chapel
7am – Breakfast and leave for school
2.30 pm- return and wash the clothes
3pm – lunch and study
5pm – afternoon tea and play
6pm – study
8pm – Dinner and study
10pm – brush teeth and sleep
She said her favourite time was the 45 minutes when she could play and that she disliked waking up at four in the morning. And if they spoke in the mother tongue they were beaten as they were supposed to speak in English.
Thankfully, now she is happy at home and is aspiring to be a bank accountant. But I will never forget her question. We all need to do more on preventing children from ending up in institutions unnecessarily.