“I’m Father Sriyananda Fernando, parish priest of St.Mary’s Church.
Thanks to our previous parish priest Rev. Father Leslie Fernando, in 2002 our parish founded the “Community Learning Center”, a non-formal education institute that gives education to street children, school dropouts, special needs students and elderly people.
In Negombo there are many children who live out in the streets, alone and uncared for. Sometimes they don’t even have permanent houses, and if they do, they live in huts with their parents who are usually not much educated. These children obviously don’t go to school.
Street children are left alone to fend off for themselves, left at the mercy of wrongdoers who take advantage of them and use them for illegal activities such as carrying drugs. Unfortunately, some of these children end up using drugs and become addicts.
Our goal is to give these children a good education so they can live up to a certain life standard.
We teach regular school subjects and give the children real life lessons. We feel like a “life education institute”.
Teaching in this institute isn’t easy because nothing is systematic, especially since street children are not used to environments that have rules and require discipline. It’s a job that poses lots of challenges and problems. Children should come here of their own accord, but sometimes we have to go out in the streets and look for them.
Some of the teachers are paid by the government while others get a small salary, but they get so little money that they’re more or less like volunteers.
We teach the children to read and write the Tamil language and English, computer science, and many other creative activities such as fabric painting, knitting, sewing, and candle making. All of the objects that the children make are sold to buy food and school supplies.
In our small kitchen, we prepare food for around 35 children every day. We can do that thanks to small food donations and things we buy from the local market with the money we get from selling our handmade products.
The institute is open from 8am to 5pm.
As a church, we try to help the children through the small donations we receive, but the money we get is not enough to meet all of their needs.”