Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Reporting from Vanni, Part III

I saw richness in poverty

by K.Mylvaganam

For these families, the lack of contact with people is their poverty. Now my friend from USA will be writing to them once he gets this photo and their address. The Senkodans will appreciate the letters a lot more than the monetary contribution my friend has made. I know that for certain. It will give them great satisfaction that there is someone unknown to them somewhere in some part of the world who cares for their child.

Staying in Vanni opens one’s eyes to see the reality of life in close proximity. The “Richness of the Soul” within the “Poverty of the Body” touches your heart.

Recently I had the great pleasure of being introduced to a couple. The husband, Senkodan, was an A-Level student before he joined the movement. Under the Jeyasikuru attack he lost his eyesight. Poorani is his wife. I thought the accident must have taken place after the marriage. But I came to know that it was Poorani who took the initiative and married him after he became blind. They have a child nearly four years old called Kayalvizhi. I guessed that it was Senkodan who selected the name (Vizhi meaning eye).

They live in a hut just big enough for all three of them. “Enough” or not enough depends on one’s mind. But I saw contentment in that family. It has one small bedroom and an open Verandah in front. The room has an earthen wall 3 feet high and galvanized tin sheet on top.

Senkodan doesn’t keep idle at home. Poorani was proudly narrating his daily routine. To my surprise, Poorani told Senkodan to fetch some water for her to make coffee for me. He walked straight to where an empty bucket was and walked towards the well which was 40 feet away. He stopped almost right at the edge of the well, caught the rope on the pulley and up came the water. He touched the bucket he took with him to locate its position and poured the water straight into it; not a drop was pilfered. For all this he is completely blind. Amongst many other things he does, he gives tuition in English and Mathematics (he was an AL student before he joined the movement) to the poor children in the neighbourhood free of charge and that touched me deeply. What a rich man he must be; blessed with a heart of gold.

This reminded me of what happened several years back in my house while we were living in Norway. My wife told our son, who was twelve then, to help her with the vacuum cleaning of our house. “Yes, Amma, but how much will you pay me?” was his response. “How much do you want?” Amma asked. Ten kroners was the reply. She said 'all right.' I was shocked because that is not the wife I know of, but I kept mum. Once it was over, my son asked, “Can I have something to eat, Amma?” “Yes, sure, but it would cost you twenty kroners,” she said. He got the message.  He hesitantly took the ten kroners out of his pocket and returned it to Amma. That is the “norm” we are used to in the west. Everything is money oriented.

Senkodan is a great guy. He is different from the norm. They are leading a very meagre life with frugal existence with the small allowance they get from the movement and still they are so rich in heart. They were not complaining at all.

While Senkodan went to fetch the water, Poorani narrated an incident. One day she knocked against one of the two chairs in the verandah and forgot all about it. When Senkodan some time later touched the chair, he worriedly asked “Poorani did you knock against the chair? Were you hurt?" As she said this, tears came to her eyes with joy and pride – he cares so much. His memory power is excellent - one of the miracles of nature, perhaps. In that house, everything has its place.

They have a neighbour who is a drunkard and beats his wife often. One morning, after hearing the woman crying loudly the previous night, Senkodan went up to the fence and called the man by his name. When he came out, Senkodan told him very authoritatively, “If you hit your wife the next time I will report you to the authorities here.” Since that day the man stopped hitting his wife, as he knew the consequences.  Senkodan cares for others as well.  

I really envied this couple instead of feeling sorry or showing sympathy. Their little hut looked a palace to me.  

Even after coming home I remembered every moment of my stay there. It was at that time I received a call from a friend from the U.S.A. I told him of my experience. He asked, “What do you propose to do for them?” Actually I didn’t have an answer at that time, but I told him that I was working on it. He said, “Count me in when you have made a decision.” That gave me the inspiration to explore more Senkodans and Pooranis. Since then I have visited sixteen couples so far. But all of them are not like Senkodan. Some are partially paralysed, some have lost both their legs, some their hands, etc. They are confined to wheelchairs. It was a very difficult thing to come to a decision. Even my friends could not help me with sound ideas. All of them were prepared to help financially a lot, but my fear was whether I will poison the purity and the serenity within the attached and caring family life by pumping money onto them. Besides these families are a bunch of proud people. They may feel insulted if any donations were suggested. More than feeling insulted, my fear was that they might get hurt.  

After several days of thinking, I thought of “attacking” the little ones in their families. During one of my visits to the Senkodans (they appreciate such visits as they have very few friends around) I told them very gently and cautiously that one friend of mine living in overseas wishes to induce saving mentality to Kayalvizhi. He wants me (I was scared to say that it was my idea) to open a fixed deposit account in a bank in her name and deposit a small sum of money in it, so that when she becomes 21 she will have a small saving in her name. I added that under the present bleak political situation one cannot be sure of what the future is going to be and wanted their opinion. Senkodan thought for a while and turned towards where Poorani was standing – he is always aware of who is where. She cast a smile (the smile is that he wanted her opinion) and said, “If it is to the child, we cannot deny it?” Senkodan turned towards me and nodded his head approving her view.

Oh! What a relief, as I was tensed all that time. I thanked them profusely for the “coffee.” It is true Poorani makes good coffee. Then I set the ball rolling and took the Savings Book and handed it over to Kayalvizhi. The naughty little Kayalvizhi enjoys standing on my feet whenever I go there. But I do not mind it because she holds my beard with her tender little fingers. It pains a little to be frank, but I enjoy that “suffering.”  

For these families, the lack of contact with people is their poverty. Now my friend from USA will be writing to them once he gets this photo and their address. The Senkodans will appreciate the letters a lot more than the monetary contribution my friend has made. I know that for certain. It will give them great satisfaction that there is someone unknown to them somewhere in some part of the world who cares for their child. More than the Senkodans, the donors are sure to get more “soul satisfaction” in this deed of theirs. “The Giver Gets More Than the Recipient.” Their children, who are living far away from Tamil Eelam, will also feel that they have a cousin or a friend living in a jungle in Vanni with whom they can communicate in times to come.  

The bank will be crediting 10% interest every year and that interest will be ploughed back into the saving so that it will earn compound interest. The bank manager was so impressed with my project that he assured me that the bank will also add a sum of Rs.400.00 to that account and to all such accounts that I would be opening in future.  

The deposit was a paltry sum of US$.200.00 only. My friend wanted to send a larger amount. But I turned it down for the moment. I was terrified that Senkodans may turn it down if it was too big an amount. I told my friend that with time as he comes to know the Senkodans better he could send a similar sum for Kayalvizvi’s birthday or for their wedding anniversary or similar events. If there is the Will there is always the Way. A sum of US$ 200.00 or UK sterling 100.00 will be more than enough.  

I have already opened one more account for another child - Isaiarasi. If any of the readers of this article is interested to come on board, please feel free to contact me on one of the following addresses:  

1. Email:

2.Telephone: 00 94 21 228 5098 (this is not functioning at present)

3. Postal Address: Marutha Manai, D-4, Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka.  

You are kindly requested not to send any money before contacting me in advance.  

Finally I wish to reiterate one thing here. The contribution can even be a one time only affair. But more than the monetary contribution the correspondences to follow are extremely important. There may be a few who have the heart to give, but not the time to write. I would suggest that they refrain from contributing to this project. There are several other projects where one time donations are good enough. But this is very special, sensitive and has to be approached very tenderly without hurting the feelings of the people involved. As a matter of fact, the reverse will be appreciated. That is to send letters to them even without sending any money – just like pen friends.  

They have sacrificed almost their life for “us” and surely we, who have the time, can spare a few minutes and send a letter or a Birthday Card to these children.    

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