Finally, after three years, my husband and I were able to visit our friend, the teacher for those with special needs, Martin Henrich and his Rainbow Foundation in Sri Lanka. Here, Martin had met disabled children and young people at an early age, whose fate never left his thoughts. In this Buddhist country, disability is often seen as the result of karmic misconduct, which is why those affected are often hidden away. At first, Martin looked after individual disabled people in his private home. This led to contact and friendship with the Buddhist Abbot Samitha Thero. The Abbot had studied abroad and had two disabled siblings himself. He held the view that instead of talking about karmic guilt, the encounter with a disabled person should be considered as one's own karma. His death in May 2021 was a great loss.
Samitha Thero had also pointed out to Martin that there was an urgent need for a kindergarten for the children of day labourers in Baddegama. Thus, the Hemmaliya kindergarten was born.
From 2020, Corona and a strict lockdown made the work much more difficult. Especially since the volunteers – highly motivated young people doing their voluntary social year, arranged through the Friends of Waldorf Education – were absent. From August 2022, the Rainbow Foundation hopes to receive volunteers from Germany again. This would mean that language courses, so important for professional advancement in Sri Lanka, can also start up again.
The Rainbow Foundation has become a permanent fixture around Baddegama. While to begin with, it was mainly Europeans who were active, it is now locals who shape the work. A tea producer, a hotelier, a Catholic sister and - what is important in Sri Lanka for recognition - the Abbot of the Buddhist monastery. Samitha Thero's successor is only 28 years old and very open-minded.
The integrated kindergarten can reopen in January 2022, completely renovated. And the demand for kindergarten places is growing. While there have been 30 children so far, 40 would now like to come. A building extension is needed, the land is available, but the money is still lacking. Poor families live in the catchment area and pay 500 rupees per child per month, which is about two euros. Out of donations received, apart from covering the running costs of the kindergarten, each child receives a savings book in which the contributions are saved until the age of 18.
The kindergarten tries to counteract the early intellectualisation that is also common in Sri Lanka. The teachers are motivated to learn elements of Waldorf education. Another "unique selling point" of the kindergarten’s ethos is the renunciation of physical violence, which is still common in the country.
During the lockdown, food parcels were distributed to the poorest day labourers and individual help was offered. Daham, who is now 14 years old, experienced his father leaving the family when he was still a child. He lived with his mother in the jungle under a corrugated iron roof, with plastic sheets as "walls". At the age of 12 the boy took his fate into his own hands. He approached day labourers to ask if they could bring him stones. Then he began to build walls stone by stone. Word of his project spread, more and more people and also the "Rainbow Foundation" supported him. Today, Daham lives in the house he built himself, and his mother now has a sewing machine to work as a seamstress.
Another touching example is 21-year-old Sandun, who had to have an operation on a brain tumour three years ago. Afterwards he was paralysed, he could not even lift his head. Day in, day out, he lay alone in the family hut, staring at the ceiling, while his family went off to work. Martin organised transport for Sandun to the kindergarten. To begin with, he just lay in bed there too, but the lively activity around him motivated him to lift his head to be able to see something. Little by little, he strengthened his muscles, and thanks to additional therapies, he can now take a few steps with a walking frame.
Martin and the Rainbow Foundation have a dream. In a country where disability is socially stigmatised, they want to show that these people can live a life worth living and be accepted and experienced as fellow human beings.
In the future, there are plans for a therapy centre where disabled children and also adults will be treated and supported. Financial support is needed for the construction of the therapy centre. But at least as important is the search for energetic people experienced in therapeutic education. And for therapists who would be willing to support the therapy centre and the kindergarten.
This Article appeared in our Newsletter "Waldorf Weltweit", Spring/Summer 2022