City Harvest Church partners Church of Prayer Mission to open a shelter home for widows.
Harvest Women’s Shelter Home offered more than a glimpse of hope for some 50 widows who turned up on April 17, at the opening of the first widow center built in the district of Vavuniya, a six-hour drive from Colombo, Sri Lanka. The red-letter day witnessed the arrival of the newly elected Member of Parliament, Selvam Adaikalanathan and Chairman of the Vavuniya Urban Council, S. N. G. Nathan, to officiate the opening ceremony of the women’s home set up by the Church of Prayer Mission with support from CHC.
Just a few days earlier, the entire nation was in a celebratory mood as both Tamil and Sinhalese communities joined in the festivities to welcome the New Year for Buddhists Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils. The holiday also signaled the dawn of a new beginning for some 27 widows, who were able to leave the Internally Displaced Persons camp just for that day, to attend the opening ceremony of the center.
The newly built widow center occupies a plot of land just behind the church, and has a total floor area of approximately 40 square meters. Designed with seven rooms, three toilets and an office, the center offers a safe haven away from the evidence of a city torn apart by the ethnic conflict.
The widows’ home stands out among the impoverished quarters in the neighborhood, especially with the coat of orange paint on its exterior walls. The spacious interior adds a touch of warmth, with a ray of hope shining in through the widows. Besides the comforting environment, a list of comprehensive and thoughtful programs—farming, sewing, cooking classes—are underway for the hopeful widows who are awaiting approval for release from the IDP camps to settle into a new life at the widow shelter.
The single-level structure is able to house 30 women, but plans are in the pipeline for a second level to be constructed, making room for a total of 60 women under one roof upon completion.
Rev. Bishop S. Santhanapillai, 60, senior pastor of Church of Prayer Mission, who has helped build a total of 35 churches over the course of his 38 years of ministry, was especially thankful to City Harvest Church for their support in the building project.
In his efforts to help the Sri Lankan community, Santhanapillai has built six daycare centers for the children affected in the civil war, and sanitation facilities for more than 100 families in the northern part of Sri Lanka. He has also worked with various international humanitarian groups, providing a total of five medical teams to aid the Manik Farm IDP Camp in Vavuniya. Personally, he makes weekly visitations to the refugees, bringing along food rations, clothing and toys on these trips.
A representative of CHC, Kenneth Sim, presented a check of US$60,000 from CHC to Santhanapillai to support and commemorate the completion of the center’s building project. Welcome gift bags packed with essentials such as a towel, soap, toothbrush set, washing powder, along with a stalk of red rose were also given to the widows who were present.
In his speech, Member of Parliament Adaikalanathan expressed that he was very “happy and pleased with the unique institution” and complimented the church’s efforts in building the widow center, the first of its kind, not seen in the two other districts he oversees, namely Mannar and Mullaitivu. He believes that three groups of people stand to benefit from the initiative. These are the “women who have lost their husbands in the war, those who are disabled as a result of the war, as well as children who have been disrupted in their studies because of the conflict.”
|PHOTO: Raymond Delon Poh
He went on to observe that the opening of the widow center is a “proclamation to the media” that “resettlement is in progress” and help is available to the unfortunate in rebuilding their lives. Adaikalanathan appealed to more non-governmental organizations to move forward in like-manner for worthy causes.
Likewise, Vice-Chairman of Vavuniya Urban Council, Nathan, also addressed those present at the opening ceremony, saying, “No words can describe our heart-felt thanks for the assistance given.”
CHC representative, Lim Shu Shan affirmed, “We are proud to spearhead the Harvest Women’s Shelter Home as it is our belief that women should be given equal opportunities and a sense of dignity to live out the life they want to.”
Harvest Women’s shelter home … bringing hope and a future to destitute women
Harvest Women’s Shelter Home aims to rebuild the lives of the war widows by providing a platform for them to generate income through practical skills learned at the center, thus empowering and motivating them to be self-reliant.
These proceeds will provide allowances for the widows, as well as fund the operations of the center.
The focus of their mission is highlighted in a three-prong approach to:
1. Provide shelter, food and clothing to the destitute widows.
2. Rebuild their lives through imparting life skills in agriculture, culinary and needlework.
3. Aid them in working toward self-reliance as they reintegrate into the society.
Rajnthram Lalithathe, 37
The civil war in Sri Lanka may have ended just over a year ago, but the memories of it are still fresh in the minds of the widows who attended the opening ceremony of the Harvest Women’s Shelter Home.
Just the rumble of a distant thunder was enough to send a chill down their spines and stir up painful recollections.
Born in Vanni in northern Sri Lanka, Rajnthram Lalithathe, a 37-year-old widow, who was recently released from the IDP camp, lost her husband almost a year ago when the conflict hit its peak during the land battle in Kilinochchi, a northern province of Sri Lanka. Left to fend for herself and her four children, she had to bear the burden when her two teenage daughters were both injured and hospitalized at press time.
To make matters worse, one of her sons was allegedly taken from her by force to be locked away in a child soldier’s surrenders camp. Her other son, 16, lives with her and is going to school at a local institution.
Lalithathe and her family were attempting to escape the war-torn Vanni to cross over to Vavuniya when gunfire broke out between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan Army, killing her husband and 19 others. An intense battle ensued between the two camps, and Lalithathe was caught in the crossfire and shot in her lower back.
She remained unconscious for a month during her stay in the hospital. Her husband’s body was taken away to be buried by the soldiers and she never had the chance to say goodbye.
V. J. Kumar, a pastor from the Church of Prayer Mission, learned about her plight through her sister, Jakavain, who is living in the safe zone. He came to her assistance and helped the two sisters to reunite. However, due to poor living conditions and space constraints, Lalithathe and her son were forced to live apart from Jakavain and 15 other family members. Pawning all the valuables the two sisters had, they managed to put up a zinc shed nearby for the mother and son to live in.
Their situation remains dire. However, they have chosen instead to look on the bright side as they continue living their lives each day—a true portrayal of boisterous courage.