Bethany Keener
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Though the young adults will most likely be sleeping in tents, this will be no ordinary summer camp-out.

Since the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, many Sri Lankan survivors are living in tents or makeshift wood structures. From July 12-Aug. 3, a dozen Youth Venture participants will live in similar arrangements while helping build permanent homes of concrete block. The team will also volunteer at Lankahara Society, an orphanage for girls.

Youth Venture participants will have opportunities for sightseeing, building relationships and learning about Sri Lankan culture. Young adults, ages 18-25, are invited to apply. More information and an application are available in the Christian Service section of
Youth Venture director Arloa Bontrager said the goal of the program is to “increase participants’ understanding of the world while demonstrating God’s love through their lives and work.” In this case, the U.S. group will have the opportunity to work alongside Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims.

“All faiths preach assisting people in distress,” said Ganesh De Silva, who will coordinate and lead the team.

Originally of Sri Lanka, De Silva has been working at the rebuilding efforts through the Elkhart 2 Sri Lanka Alliance since just days after the storm. As a Buddhist, he would like to see more interfaith dialogue, especially when centered on the common goal of helping those in need.

Through his work with the Sri Lankan organization Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust and the Rotary Club of Panadura, De Silva has designed houses to be built in Panama and Ruvingama, villages founded since the tsunami.

The homes the Youth Venture team will help build are 600 square feet and consist of a kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. A new home built with local materials and volunteer labor costs around $3,000. De Silva said new zoning laws ensure that the people who are most in need of housing receive it.

Lankahara Society also was affected by the tsunami. Begun in the 1920s by De Silva’s great-grandmother, the orphanage provided a home to 70 girls, from infants to 18-year-olds. Following the storm, 25 newly orphaned girls were placed in the orphanage. De Silva hopes to help expand the capabilities of the orphanage through a career center that will teach young women skills like sewing and cooking.







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