I woke up to a crisp morning the day of my departure to Sri Lanka. I anticipated that traffic would be light as it was just a few days after the end of Ramadan and millions of people had gone home to celebrate Eid. I was right. The ride from my parents’ home on any given day could take more than an hour. That day it was 35 minutes.
Six hours later I landed safely in Colombo. Sheeron, our Director, was already waiting to greet me and gave me a ride to our home in Atulugama. It was about 30 miles from the airport.
When we arrived in our beautiful home, the boys were already waiting in the front yard. Each was eager to greet me. I was received warmly with a lovely bouquet of flowers, warm smiles, laughter, and hugs. I was with them only two years ago and all of them had already grown taller, and I hoped, wiser.
We proceeded to our spacious dining room and I rotated my seat to ensure I sat with all of them. Each table sits about eight kids so I changed my seat five times. Immediately, they boys posed for pictures. Dinner was delicious and we talked about our plans for the next three days.
Later that night two volunteers from the Bay Area, Emaad and Raghib Hussain, arrived. The following morning we had our first healthy and delicious breakfast together. We spent half of the day outdoors watching the kids perform their karate skills. They all looked neat and tidy in their white uniforms. At 10 a.m. when we started, the sun was already hot and the air felt really humid. Despite that, the boys were happy to showcase their moves in front of us -- their guardians and guests.
Once karate was done, we moved indoors into our spacious dining hall. The kids performed various activities and one of our boys opened the program with a beautiful and melodious recitation of the holy Qur'an. Then ten boys in crisp white shirts and bowties, came out to sing a “Welcome” song. What a beautiful sight to see, especially when I picture the image of orphans in torn clothes. It was such a contrast and a testament to the philosophy of our work. We do things with love. We then moved on to speech competition, followed by memorization of the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him)).
After lunch, we announced the winners from each category. They all came forward with beaming smiles for their prizes. Apart from competition in these three areas, we also recognized kids with the best behavior and most diligence and tidiness. At the end everyone got chocolate, even those who did not win anything.
We spent the rest of the day playing board games, drawing, reading, and storytelling. We divided into three groups. One group of about 15 kids went to our study room to learn about dental hygiene with Uzma (need last name), a dentist based in the U.S. who accompanied her cousin, Emaad. The second group joined four of us in the game room to play chess with Emaad. Some read with Raghib and Rezona, Sheroon's Sri Lanka-based cousin based who volunteered with us. Others drew with me. We all had a lot of fun indoors as the sun was unbearably hot outside.
When the day became cooler, we played badminton in our courtyard. I had no idea how much the boys love this sport. All the boys wanted to play with me, their “Ummi,” so we invented a way for me to play with all 20 kids. We formed a long line and each took a turn to play with me. Some were really good and some were still beginning, but all were happy and laughing. Although we had many rackets and many shuttlecocks, they waited patiently for their turn to play with me. This is just another sign of how each child longs for attention and love -- something we know to be universal, even for us adults.
Dinnertime came and we enjoyed our company over chicken curry, rice, and other local dishes prepared by our talented in-house chef. The kids were excited about our plan for the next day. It was a trip to the beach! After dinner they packed their swim trunks, snacks, kites, and other toys for the next day. The house began buzzing at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. Right after dawn prayer the boys roamed about with excitement. After breakfast we prepared to board the bus, which thankfully came with air-conditioning. All 50 of us crammed in the bus that took us to the beach that was about an hour away from our home. The ride was smooth and halfway there some of the boys got up and started to dance. We watched in awe and decided not to stop them even though I did not it was not safe and they should buckle up. I decided to let them enjoy the moments.
We arrived at the Beach Resort at 11 a.m. As we entered the hotel the kids could not contain their excitement. The sight of the crystal blue pool glittering under the sunlight amplified my happiness.The kids had a chance to see how good and amazing life can be. A few minutes after we got there the waiters came with our welcome drinks.s I watched the boys enjoy their cold drinks, after which they quickly rushed to the pool. In the beginning Emaad hesitated to join but after much persuasion from the boys and me, he jumped. The boys got so excited that they started to climb on him and pulled him left and right. Luckily Emaad enjoyed the experience. They swam and splashed for hours until lunchtime.
The open buffet was amazing and so was the dessert. Sheroon did an excellent job bargaining the price for us and got us a 50% discount on our meal.
On the way home the kids were tired but their eyes sparkled. That night as we said our goodbyes, I tried to hold my tears and so did they. It is always hard to leave, but my family was waiting for me in Jakarta where we would be joining them before we headed back to the U.S. Parting was difficult. From the look on their faces, I know that the memories of our sweet summer days in Sri Lanka will stay with them for a long time. They will stay with me forever.
July 26, 2016
We asked Emaad and two of our boys to share their experiences. Below is what they wrote:
My time at the GiveLight home is an experience I will never forget. The home itself is kept very clean and everything ranging from the beds to the bathroom are good quality. The home is a place even I would be comfortable living in. Out of the 40 faces I kept seeing, I don't think I met a single boy who didn't smile at me. As I walked through the hallways, every kid gave me a high five. We all had fun with activities like playing badminton and chess. On my last day there, we took them to a swimming pool and the beach. They were so excited and happy to be there, even if most of them couldn't swim. As energetic as the kids were, they were also very well-behaved. I would definitely visit the home again, to see how much the kids have grown since the last time I saw them. Even though there was a language barrier, I know that I made 40 new friends.
My Dear Ummi,
Assalaamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wa Barakathuhu Your visit to Sri Lanka gave lot of happiness to us. We have become better boys since we came to Givelight Home. Ummi we are very happy that you played Karate, Badminton and taught us Drawing too. We thank you for teaching these things to us. Ummi we all at GLH were very happy on those three days you spent with us. You made us very happy by playing with us. You hugged us like a mother. If we did any thing wrong to you Ummi, we are very sorry Ummi and forgive us.
Ummi, we are very happy since you came here and went. We are very happy that we played Badminton with you and we still think about you whenever we play Badminton. We cannot forget reciting Quran with you after Thahajjath Prayers. It was a great gift that you came and spent some time with us. Ummi, you took us out to a Swimming Pool and spent a whole day and had lunch with us. It was very kind of you Ummi, we will never forget these events. Ummi, here we are looked after better than at our houses and we want to say sorry if we have done any mistakes and hurt you. All of us will always pray for your family and especially your father who is not well.