Let’s start today’s story at the end. After all, every story has an ending place and without that goal in mind the beginning doesn’t matter much at all. A pretty smart fellow named Solomon put it this way: Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. Today we got to see the end result of something amazing and rejoicing such as I’ve rarely encountered. Here’s how it happened…
The morning began the same way the day ended with dancing and celebration. After fifteen years and countless lives changed for the better, World Vision is closing up shop in this community because they’ve now worked themselves out of a job. Every function of leadership and change is now worked in a sustainable fashion by local people within those communities. Even today’s events were completely planned and organized by the community not the World Vision staff. To mark the occasion, a convoy of vehicles with World Vision staff, local community leaders, and a few wide-eyed American bloggers took off to visit different groups within this location and to bid them farewell.
I’m not sure I can do justice to what we saw along that trek. The harvest is over this time of year and in this dry season the roads are mostly dry earth with hot breezes moving the palm trees and few remaining bits of greenery. The houses we saw and the livelihoods represented would have made the poorest person I know in America look fabulously rich by comparison. Often nothing but mud walls and a few palm fronds woven into fences marked the spot where an entire family lives and works.
But something strange was afoot in these villages. Somebody apparently forgot to remind these people that the appropriate emotion for people with so few possessions or modern conveniences is abject misery. Everywhere we stopped we were greeted with smiles and tears of joy. Young girls danced in forms as old as time and women old enough to be their grandmothers danced too, clapping and laughing aloud and thanking us for honoring them by being there. You see, to these people we are responsible for their success simply by being American because to them America is World Vision. To them our little group represented the people who helped make the radical transformation in the lives present. Children now get healthcare and education. There is better food to eat and better farming techniques to cultivate it. Most of all there is now hope and hope sings loudly from every smile that beams out wherever you chance to look.
We received flowers from Buddhists, traded blessings with Hindus, and ate food made by Muslims. We shared a delicious meal (eaten with our fingers in good Sri Lankan style) with teachers and children in their school building. “Look at us!” these gifts all but shouted “we were once weak but now we are strong. You gave gifts to us, now here are gifts from the labors we do. Now we are proud to give back to you.” Although poor by American standards, this area is now completely self-sustaining needing no outside World Vision support to pay teachers, hire community leaders, and continue the work of improving lives by building healthy children, strong families, and unified communities.
But World Vision’s work is far from over in Sri Lanka. At this writing there are forty other areas in need of sponsorships and funding so that they can repeat the story of success we saw here today. The end of this work brings a new beginning as the staff relocate to a new area to begin the work anew. With help from you this same celebration happen over and over again.
I wish you could have seen those children smile and dance.