Denying conversion charges, World Vision says its mission is to enhance the living conditions of the underprivileged in rural Sri Lanka
Helping them help themselves
By Frances Bulathsinghala
If there is a word that Yu Hwa Li, National Director of the World Vision, a global Christian charity has come to hate, it is 'conversions'. The organization, which is known internationally as a Christian charity, began developing severe identity problems last year, that came to a crisis in November with Buddhist clergy storming its offices, demanding explanations about the work it does.

"It is getting almost impossible to work here. There are anonymous calls, asking me for Bibles and to explain the miracles of Christ. We have explained to anyone to please go to the rural areas where we are located and see how we function," explains the World Vision National Director, appealing to 'please not to ask him if he is 'going around converting people'.

But The Sunday Times, which was invited on a press tour to the rural areas the organization was operating in, explained the question had to be asked nevertheless."No, we do not convert anyone. We do not even bother to find out their religion. It is not our concern. Our mission is working with the poorest of the poor and this means we provide them monetary aid.

“We always carry out our charity and development work under the supervision and along with the Government components, such as the Divisional Secretariats of the regions.” He added that the 'label of conversion' may have fixed itself because 'some money had been provided to certain evangelists in the early years soon after the organization made its entrance to Sri Lanka in 1977’.

"We are not known for the reasons we should be known," he further adds and repeats this at a function to hand over a mobile dental unit to the Director of the Mannar Provincial Health Services, Dr.(Mrs). S. R. Jude.

A dental unit was established for 562 students at Periyapandivirichan Maha Vidyalaya and also the fourteen nearby schools, hoping to cater to around 1,750 school children in total.

On a tour of of the rural areas in Mannar, the World Vision representative for the area, Ravi Shankar states that it is with the objective of enhancing the lives of those in rural Mannar that World Vision took over the supervision of a fibre manufacturing unit which was earlier under the control of the Palmyrah Board in Thullukudiyiruppu.

"Still the officials of the Palmyrah Board continue to provide technical assistance but we provide the funds and opportunities for these women to sell their produce,” says Shankar. He points out that Rural Development Societies initiated by the World Vision representatives are created at village level.

"There are 24 families in the village. Most of them had been living in various camps for the displaced in Mannar and Madhu during the war. The problem of illicit liquor was widespread. As an option, now we are in the process of finding options where various products made out of palmyrah fibre can be exported. Till then, we are providing them opportunities to market their produce in the Mannar towns and in Colombo," says Ravi Shankar.

Also in the Mannar region, in Kudiyuruppu there are 53 houses which have been built as part of a shared attempt at social upliftment. The work had been shared by the now proud owners of the houses who had once lived in shacks mostly as part of IDP settlements and World Vision.

"We make the bricks and assist in building the house. There is one mason provided by the organisation. We chip in with the balance of the work. We get together to do the work so it is not only the person who is going to reside in the house that works towards its completion, but all of us in whatever way we can," says 45-year-old Kirsrasa.

The houses have two rooms and a sizable hall area. Funds up to Rs. 150,000 are provided by World Vision for basic construction, which means that the owners are then motivated to complete the houses as best as they could.

"The 53 families are located in the half acre area where they attempt cultivation. For us the project does not stop at providing them with the housing assistance; we continue to be a part of their lives. We mainly continue with a revolving loan scheme that we maintain in the other villages that we work with as well.

“We give loans of upto Rs. 12,000 per person. We encourage them to save and take the initiative to start their own poultry or agriculture business. The idea is to make them feel independent. These projects are planned along with the guidance and support of the District Secretariats," says Ramesh Kumar, World Vision team leader for the Madhu and Mannar territories.

He explains that in Talaimannar, which mainly consists of fishing communities, World Vision works with the fisher societies of the area ensuring that monetary assistance for the purchase of nets, engines and boats is provided. There is a separate self-motivation scheme for women and children where loans are provided for vocational training and the education of the children.

Training is given in cake making, bridal stitching, beauty culture and handicrafts. Most of the women find it difficult to purchase the raw materials needed for their training, with the family's meagre income mainly from fishing but they persist in achieving their dream of mastering a craft of their choice.

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