Photo Copyright World Vision. Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
The earth in Sri Lanka is dry this August, drier than any August most of the people can remember. The flat land, harvested in the last four to six weeks, is either a tan stubble or scorched black from fires that cleared new fields for the next planting.
On Monday morning, World Vision staff drove us along the edges of these fields. We entered a community where they have been working for fifteen years. The vehicles bounced up and down on bumpy, paved roads. Off in the distance I saw a huge crowd gathered – they were waiting for us.
The bus pulled over, and we walked up the shoulder towards eight girls in white ceremonial dress. They stood completely still, arms out in front of them. Then, when the drums began, they danced, erupting in an explosion of movement and the sound of small ringing bells that were attached to their clothing. Every so often their dance moved them back up the road, and we followed them – ours was a bigger group now, made up of not only our ten but additional World Vision staff and community leaders.
Then the dancers stopped, scattering. In front of us two lines of people, each perhaps a hundred yards long. Some of those in line were small children waving balloons. Others were adults smiling and bowing their heads as we passed. They gave us gifts as we walked between them. Children ran up bearing flat green leaves, pushing them towards us, then bending down and touching our feet, awaiting a blessing.
We waved, unsure as to what we had done to deserve such a welcome.
And so the day continued, from place to place, and everywhere we went people welcomed us with gifts and blessings and thankful tears. At one stop, two old women danced in yellow dresses, their ancient feet stirring up dust, their voices chanting. When they stopped, one of the women couldn’t keep from crying – she kept covering her toothless mouth with one hand and wiping her eyes with a threadbare handkerchief clutched in the other.
They welcomed us, and they gave us gifts, and they cried with joy at our arrival. But it wasn’t because of anything that we had done – it was because of this man, my new hero.
He is the ADP Director for World Vision in Sri Lanka, and everywhere we went, he was the guest of honor. You see, for 15 years World Vision has been helping this part of the country: organizing schools and medical care, building sustainable solutions to address the shortage of fresh water, providing counseling to help families manage their finances and prevent abuse, teaching families how to grow gardens and profitable crops, and many, many other things. For the last 15 years, World Vision has been transforming this community.
And today, the day of celebrations and gifts and tears, marks the day that World Vision leaves.
But they do not leave the people empty-handed – they leave them prepared for a sustainable future. For the last three to five years, World Vision has gradually handed over the responsibilities to the community, so that by the time this day rolled around, World Vision had zero full time volunteers at work in this area. The people there have assumed all responsibility for the management of their community. The World Vision staff has moved on to another community, one we will visit on Tuesday.
And it is a beautiful thing to see: people who have been given hope and dignity. People who now have a future.
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