CHARIS Volunteers Help Build Toilets for Sri Lankan Tea Plantation Workers
By Adelyn Tan and Regina Chan
Team CHARIS and Caritas SED Galle with local residents of Deniyaya, Sri Lanka.
"And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." [Mark 16:15] With this in mind, 15 volunteers responded to their call to missionary work and embarked on a week’s journey to Deniyaya, Sri Lanka from 26 January to 1 February in partnership with Caritas SED Galle under
Caritas Sri Lanka. The team comprised missionaries from Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore (CHARIS) as well as three art therapists from The Red Pencil International Ltd, a non-profit organisation based in Singapore focusing on the benefits of art therapy as a pathway to wellbeing.
The tea plantation workers face impoverished conditions which result in societal problems like low social standing, lack of self-identity and little education thus limiting the supportive mediums to freely express themselves. The art therapy sessions were conducted for them to connect their emotions through basic art
materials like colour pencils. The art therapists introduced visual journaling which can help them to cope with and externalise their emotions of anger and frustration.
Besides helping in the building of toilets funded by a CHARIS grant and demonstrating the benefits of a biosand water filtration system, the team forged memorable friendships with the warm-hearted villagers at the various tea plantation estates in Deniyaya. Through imparting construction skills to witnessing their children in the healing process of creative expression, the heartfelt joy behind the smiles of the villagers clearly showed how much they appreciated the personal touch on top of the financial assistance.
At the opening speech during the handing over ceremony of constructed toilets at the Anninkanda Estate, villager Mr K. Danush expressed: “We are happy to have you with us. We are grateful to you, for your support, concern, care and generosity towards us. Once again, we say a big thank you and assure you of our prayers. May God bless you.”
CHARIS volunteer, Ms Pearlyne Khoo, and a young local helper working together.
The group was blessed to be in the company of Fr Michael Ranjendram, director of Caritas SED Galle, and Fr Joseph Ladislaus from St Michael’s Church, Tamil Nadu, India, throughout the trip as they served as good spiritual guides especially during the end-day faith formation sessions for, as Fr Michael said, good works
without faith would be insufficient.
He remarked: “I am personally so well edified with the way each one of them got involved in the daily work. The beneficiaries and the children were so glad to have had an opportunity to meet the CHARIS team personally. It was a rewarding experience for them all.”
Team leader, Ms Sharon Joy Low, commented: “Having the daily sharing and reflection sessions in smaller groups garner an intimate feel and it’s also easier to hear different perspectives from each individual. The social teachings and relevant biblical quotes serve as a food for thought to deepen our moral and spiritual
The team also met with various partners involved in the support to marginalised communities in Sri Lanka, including the bishop of Galle, Most Rev Dr Raymond Kingsley Wickramasinghe; and the CODESEP team who implement projects to uplift and dignify the underprivileged people in the plantation sector. An eye opener would be the visit to the Sinharaja Rainforest where the team spent time with God’s creation through nature.
First-time missioner, Mr Jonathan Ho, summed up his experience: “We learnt from the villagers that being happy simply means being content with what you have. I will definitely stay in touch with CHARIS as it’s a wonderful thing to do.”