Getting so much from those with so little

It has become somewhat of a washed out cliche to say that going on a volunteer trip changed me on a spiritual level, but it would also be wrong of me to ignore the way the girls at the Grace home in Sri Lanka altered my view of the world and helped me grow as a human being.

In the face of horrific circumstances these girls have been able to not only carry on, but to thrive in both their social and academic pursuits. They have reminded me of love in the purest form, and for that I will be forever indebted to them. I’ve also been reminded that education is a gift, and it should be cherished rather than dreaded which is often the case for kids in countries such as ours. Growing up in Canada with two loving parents, I have been given every opportunity to succeed in all aspects of my life. Having no expense spared in order to ensure I have a stable future, I often forget that education at any level is an incredible opportunity that gives you the means to achieve so-called “unachievable” realities.

Although I was not born and did not grow up in Sri Lanka, the culture and heritage of the country is one I call my own. It has been faced with its fair share of tragic and horrific incidents including a three-decade long civil war between its people (the longest running civil war to ever occur in Asia) and a tsunami that wiped out entire families and left many without homes or knowledge of where their loved ones were.  Grace Girls Home and Elder Care Centre was established in order to ensure individuals without a stable home have a place to stay. Grace Home is located in the city of Trincomalee, which is mainly known for its military port. Trincomalee has been irreversibly damaged by both the targeted cruelty of the war and the destruction of the tsunami. The Grace girls have seen their fair share of violence and have spent most of their lives without knowing how much they are worth.

During my trip I heard stories of how many of the girls ended up at Grace. Some had been orphaned due to the civil war or tsunami, others had been abandoned due to the poverty that sweeps the country, and the rest were brought to Grace by their parents hoping to give them a slightly brighter future.

I would never have guessed that the sassy kid who tugged on my hair and ran away giggling spent her early years living alone in a cemetery, severely malnourished and surviving on scraps being fed to her by the graveyard workers and by begging visitors for food or money. Or that the 17 year old beautiful, full-scholarship aspiring dancer had been orphaned by a never ending string of tragedies: from childbirth that killed her mother, to the civil war that killed her father, and finally to the tsunami that killed her aunt and cousins, her last remaining family. She had lost everything and had even attempted to commit suicide during the tsunami when her remaining family was washed out to sea but was unsuccessful. I can’t imagine the truth when I think of the girl who smiled with so much light when she told me she loved Canada because Justin Bieber was Canadian and made me play her favourite song  “One Time” on repeat for over an hour as she sat and hummed quietly next to me.

Even after facing these hardships, the genuine and innocent laughter I heard on during this trip seemed more full of love and appreciation than any I’ve ever heard. I will never be able to express to these girls how truly full of love they made me, and how broken my heart became when they cried as we all loaded the bus for the last time. The love and support that these girls have received during their stays has proven that Grace is so much more than a house to stay in, it’s a home.