Akash and Sumudu
The first two faces we look at as we see light in this world are those of our parents’. But not every newborn goes through this fortunate experience. Although children are born to this world, many of them don’t have a father or they don’t have both parents. This could be due to various reasons and in most instances, children will be labelled as ‘illegitimate’. Akash was left at an orphanage when he was just two weeks old, while Sumudu’s home was an orphanage since she was two months old. Such were the beginnings of a duo that decided to be a voice for children who go through a similar fate through their foundation - Voice for the Voiceless.
Established four years ago with a vision to build a ‘better Sri Lanka with Better Sri Lankans’ as mentioned in their slogan, Voice stands for Violence, Oppression, Injustice, Crime and Engage against. Hence their work has been categorized into five main streams including education, shelter, relief and rehabilitation, empowerment and skills development and advocacy. “We prioritise on Voice against children because in most instances children don’t have a voice,” Akash said in an interview with Mirror for Hope. “I grew up in an orphanage since I was two weeks old and my wife was left in an orphanage since she was two months old. By the age of 18 we have to leave the orphanage as per the law in our country which states that an individual is not a child after they reach the age of 18. After 18 I was homeless and I have sought shelter in bus stands and various other places. I then got to Colombo and started working at a factory in Kaduwela. Then I found a church in Rajagiriya and the pastor asked me to stay at his house. That was my home for the next seven years. He also gave his surname to me. However my wife did her A/Ls and studied home nursing and was working in a hospital in Kandy. But she was struggling with her finances while I already stabilized myself in Colombo. Therefore I asked her to come to Colombo and join the foundation. This is how we met.”
Akash wanted to help fellow children from falling into the gutters of society. “When I told this to the pastor he got the Voice for Voiceless foundation registered and that is how it all started,” he continued. “We are mostly advocating on care-leavers – those who are leaving orphanages. Sadly nobody in the government knows how many children are at orphanages or the number of children that have left. But it is the responsibility of the state to make sure that these children are being taken care of. We also started a network called Generation Never Give up which is a combination of all care-leavers whom we are trying to connect.”
95% of their funds are pooled in from Sri Lankans which also includes those living abroad. They have a shelter in Rajagiriya which houses children who have gone through abuse, those who are children of drug addicts etc. Akash further said that at Voice they look at a holistic picture where they help the child and also the parents. “We have 34 children and apart from three families all other children are raised by single parents. We ask the parents to go and work without staying at home. In Colombo it is quite expensive for them to put a child in a daycare and instead they would lock a child up in a house and go to work. But in our safe-houses the children are safe but in return the parents have to work. This way we are helping the family to be self-sustained in the long run.”
Over the past three years Akash and Sumudu have been going to Batticaloa and as a result of their visits they were able to setup an activity centre there. The Foundation has completed over 60 projects and they currently have 33 ongoing projects. They have also built a school in Pooneryn with the support of the 66th Brigade of the Sri Lanka Army. Akash and the team are also planning to build their second school in Eravur, Batticaloa. Other projects include Good Hope – women’s empowerment project, Kilinochchi Ottrupulam Activity Centre and the Hambantota victory kids’ club. Along with that they support children and families in need.
The Foundation runs with the support of four permanent members and many volunteers who want to make a change.
If you want to support this cause or want to find out more details visit www.vforv.org