HOUSING AND HOME LIFE

TRUSTEE, CORDELIA NAGLE, WHO HAS SPENT MANY OF HER SCHOOL HOLIDAYS AT THE RAINBOW CENTRE SINCE THE AGE OF EIGHT DESCRIBES THE CHILDREN’S HOUSING

'I wish I could bring you to visit the Rainbow Centre so you could talk to the children about what their lives are like and see their slum housing. Whenever we take people to visit the children's homes they are shocked - this includes Sri Lankan visitors. I think that to really understand the Rainbow Centre's work, you need an idea of how the children live.

Your home would be a wooden shack and you'd sleep on the floor in the same room as all your family – this is often more than six people. You wouldn't have access to water or toilets, the nearest well is often a 20-minute walk away. You'd rely, if you are lucky, on a car battery for electricity. Maybe your family would have a dim lamp to light up the place in the evening. This makes doing school homework impossible. During the monsoon season your home would get flooded and you'd have to move out to camp in a temple until the water level went down. Most of the few possessions that you'd have would be ruined by the water.

You would have to rent these shacks and often they are in such a state of bad repair it means you have to move. Many of the Rainbow Centre children go from being homeless to finding and fixing up new shacks to shelter in.

Your mother would not think it was her job to take care of you. It's the other way round. If you are a girl, you are expected to do the housework and the cooking on a fire made of wooden sticks and to take care of your younger brothers and sisters. You would also be expected to help wash everyone's clothes having collected the distant well water.

When money gets really tight you have to go out and do the humiliating and dangerous work of begging, often with a younger sister or brother. People are rude to you and blame you for your need.

If you are poor you are treated like dirt. Some people will actually call you an animal and say you like to live like that. The police are too corrupt to act in your best interests. Government services are both too corrupt and inept. Most schools won't want anything to do with you. If you need to go to hospital you will not be made to feel welcome and doctors give you only the most cursory attention. You will notice that people stare at you and that you are treated differently from other children.

You will have grown up with a deep sense of shame about where you have come from and have a real problem with self-confidence. You see, in the government's eyes, you don't even exist. Your mother will not have been able to get you a birth certificate, and may not know who your real father actually is let alone the date of your birthday or your name.

If you are a girl, you would be under pressure to get married as soon as you hit puberty - so your parents don't have to worry about you anymore. You would be hassled by the men living near you and are at high risk of sexual abuse. But then your mother had you when she was in her early teens and was herself the victim of abuse and alcoholism... But unlike you, your mother was not able to go to school.'

Without your support and compassion the Rainbow Centre would not be what it is today