News and Events
A Labor of Love: One Land, One Hope
By Nikhil Jacob and Bethany Rogers
Click here for the photo essay by Morgana Wingard
Spending 30 days of summer vacation serving in a country wrought with intense humidity, poverty, and internal political struggles requires a certain degree of resolve, a kind that six Pepperdine students and alumni possessed this past summer. Along with four adults and six students from three other Southern California universities, Christopher Chang, Nikhil Jacob, Romesh Jayawardene, Bethany Rogers, Elizabeth Kerns, and Morgana Wingard witnessed and mourned the devastating affect the December 2004 tsunami had on the coast of Southeast Asia. Collectively, they raised funds and flew halfway around the world to Sri Lanka where they used their energy and resources to help anyone in need.
Under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Jayawardene, professor of sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, the group of volunteers focused their effort on Children of Joy, a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. Jayawardene who is hoping to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable tsunami victims – the children. The center will provide a daily meal program, medical clinic, English-language tutoring, computer literacy, and psychological support. The volunteers dedicated the majority of their time to setting up the center and its health and education programs, while also traveling to surrounding areas where they tended to the needs of marginalized school children, psychologically traumatized orphans, individuals and families deprived of health care, and other non-governmental organizations.
The Americans embraced the occupants of Mother Theresa's House of Love for the Sick and Dying, which cares for the mentally and physically handicapped to whom society's hand will not extend. Seaver College 2005 alumna Bethany Rogers remembers what it meant to be there, "Sitting amongst and holding the hands of the women whose bodies were twisted by disease, I learned the power of a touch and how it can shed a person of his or her infirmities and bring healing to their hearts, if just for one moment."
The group also paid weekly visits to a middle school where the children of the poorest families attend. The mere presence of Americans raised these children's hopes. Their lack of wealth has led to not only a total rejection from society, but also a pessimistic attitude from school directors, who expect the children to fail. But the group proposed to do more than just break through social boundaries. "Through songs, crafts, and outdoor activities, the children had the opportunity to laugh and feel unmerited love, an experience that might be the highlight of their entire lives," says Pepperdine junior Christopher Chang. "What began as children receiving the outstretched hands of the volunteers with hesitation or surprise, ended in excited smiles as they gradually came to possess higher levels of self confidence."
The team stumbled upon piles of rubble and debris scattered about in the town of Galle, located on the Southeast coast of Sri Lanka. There, they encountered and interacted with the local villagers who, with their limited English vocabulary, shared their memories of their flee from 'waves as high as the coconut trees.' "Upon visiting the sites where the waves came ashore, the mere sight of the destruction hit us like a tsunami," says Nikhil Jacob, a junior at Pepperdine. The stay was brief due to political provisions, but it left the Americans deeply saddened by the aftermath of the disaster. "Love is a force more powerful than the tsunami," said Dr. Jayawardene upon return. He emphasized the importance of this virtue as well as its healing power in dealing with such situations.
Having achieved their goal of entering and helping in devastating situations, the group agrees that their trip to Sri Lanka was at its core a labor of love. Though they came prepared to change lives through tireless hands-on work, they discovered that a gentle touch, simple smile, and their mere presence were enough for those in need.
With the development of Children of Joy now underway, the center is still looking for the funds to build "The House of Hope," a home for fifteen orphan girls, many who lost their families in the tsunami. With the love, prayer, and support of community members, this dream can become a reality. To find out more about this organization, please visit the Children of Joy Web site.