Here’s a special post by our managing director, Catherine Lebouille, about a cause close to her heart:
It’s such an exciting time to be in Sri Lanka. The weather right now is perfect for a dreamy vacation on the island’s golden beaches. Sri Lanka’s Independence Day and the colorful Navam Buddhist procession (with elephants!) will commence early February. I know you can’t wait to tour the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” In the meantime, I want to tell you something about Mai Globe Travels’ giving program to support Bethlehem Crèche, a daycare center that looks after underprivileged children in Colombo. So while you enjoy the cultural and natural wonders of Sri Lanka, you can also help out its children in need, and have a great and meaningful vacation.
Bethlehem Crèche is tucked away in Wanathamulla, a poor neighborhood in Colombo 8. For over a decade the institution was managed by Rev. Sister Florella, a staunch nun who’ s held fort through natural disasters and periods of dwindling donations. The crèche provides daytime care for children from impoverished families in the area. Often these families are broken. Almost all the children in daycare have fathers who are either in prison or are substance abusers. Their mothers are daily-wage earners engaged in temporary, low-income jobs. Most live in government housing schemes and can barely afford rent. “When the children are with us, that’s when they get three meals a day,” Sister Florella told me. “If it’s a public holiday, there’s no work for the mothers, so the children stay home and starve.”
The crèche takes in about 60 children on average, sometimes even 70 if necessary. This year, the crèche has about 35 children between the ages of one and five regularly attending. When I visited them last week, four staff members were taking care of 16 toddlers (others were absent due to holidays). The crèche has four small rooms for the children, which the staff keeps meticulously clean. “We have to buy a lot of disinfectant,” Sister Florella said while we toured the center. In one room, a staff member tried to comfort a little girl bawling for her mother. “Both her parents have speech disorders, so we are trying to teach her to speak because she’s not exposed to language at home,” Sister Florella explained. We walked past a room with new stainless steel baby cots. “About two years ago, this whole place flooded up to knee-level for two days. We lost all the wooden cots we had. A donor bought us these new ones.”
It’s difficult maintaining the crèche without a steady flow of income or financial support, Sister Florella said. The crèche right now is entirely dependent on donations, most of which Sister Florella collects going door-to-door. Just for the food, the crèche needs at least Rs. 100,000 per month, Sister Florella estimated, but even that estimate keeps changing as the cost of living in Sri Lanka keeps going up. One corporate donor has set aside an account exclusively for the children’s upkeep. “The problem with this is that I can’t buy anything for the staff or for maintenance. I can buy milk powder for the morning milk tea for the children, but not disinfectant or dinner for the staff,” Sister Florella pointed out. The staff here is comprised of girls aged between 15 and 20 from poverty-stricken regions, who’ve dropped out of school after completing their Ordinary Levels. The staff stays at the crèche and work full-time. The staff is determined, but they don’t have the training to provide psychological or other skilled care the children need. Trained staff has to be paid minimum Rs. 10,000 a month, a sum the crèche cannot afford. Once Sister Florella did hire trained teachers with a donor’s support. Then the donor abruptly pulled the funding so she had to let them all go. The Sister also struggles to pay the caretakers, who have taken up the grueling task of growing organic vegetables as a means of cutting costs.
At Mai Globe Travels, we want to support Bethlehem Crèche carry out their ardent and admirable work taking care of disadvantaged children. We are introducing a giving away program where Rs. 500 (about 3.80 USD) from each of the bookings we receive will be donated to the crèche. If you want to aid even more, you can contact Sister Florella by calling (+94) 011-268-4050. She’s more than happy to discuss a sponsorship for a child or larger donations to the crèche. I urge you to extend support any way you can.