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Building the Dream

13 years old. Imprisoned with female criminals. Pregnant with her father’s child. Handcuffed and abused, physically and verbally in the prison system. Forced to testify for years against her own family. Doesn’t she too deserve a home? What about education? Respect? Community? She hasn’t had ownership over anything in her life…not even her own body.

I want to help her and many others in her shoes.

Everywhere I go, people’s hearts and minds open when they learn about my girls at Ma-Sevana. They promise me their energy, they ask what they can do. There is a magic in the air that inspires incredible things. I don’t know how to explain it. I find opportunities manifesting as soon as I allow them to. After many productive meetings with CEOs, business directors, lawyers, designers, psychologists, the Child Protection Authority, and friends, I have decided to start an organization in Sri Lanka to provide a home, safety, and education for the many abused teenage mothers who are left in the prison system with no place to turn. My aim? To help them become respected, contributing members of their communities who have the tools to end abuse in their sphere of influence.

* * *

7:30 am. I met Pat and Sahran with Uwe at Pat’s house. Pat is the woman who will continue my work. Sahran is a well-known designer here in Colombo (interior, architecture, events) and Pat’s best friend, and Uwe is my dear friend from Germany. We were off to look at a chunk of land.

We drove for about 1.5 hrs north of Colombo, just half an hour past the airport to beautiful Sengal Oya, the 10.2 acre coconut estate we set out to look at, owned by Sahran. Sengal Oya used to stretch thousands of acres, holding the Sengal Oya river. Today, this 10.2 acre plot of land is all that remains in Sahran’s family. A husband and wife and their teenage son live there now, harvesting and selling the coconuts, mangos, jackfruit, bananas, and cashews from the land to generate income. Sahran pays them for their work and pays for their son’s education.

Sengal Oya is perfect in every way. I want you to imagine driving through a large gate onto a sandy road, tall coconut trees lining the driveway. The air is fresh, the sound of traffic muffled by the lush greenery and a breeze cools you despite the fact that we are in the peak of the hot season. You are less than 10km from Chilaw, a beautifully upkept town with a hospital, markets, and shops and just 2km from the beach. The front of the land is dotted with 400 coconut trees and the back of the land has been cleared to make space for a house. A huge old tree, with massive spreading branches, shades the middle of the property. A few cows and chickens graze the grounds and there are vegetable patches and flowers near the house that the caretakers live in.

Here is a taste of what I envision: a small village of cottages, each housing 5-6 girls and their children, similar to the set up of SOS villages. 2-3 girls live in a room with their children, but each girl has her own space. Breezy and well-lit, the girls will live in family unit, with the support of a house mother who will get to know them as individuals. The girls will also feel part of the larger community, having their lunch, dinner, classes and activities with the rest of the girls in open, outdoor spaces, shaded by large roofs. Several ponds with fish and lotuses extend around and into (yes, into) the houses, porches, and outdoor covered areas to sooth the mind and cool the area by absorbing heat. Indoor and outdoor space is intertwined… the girls’ lives are intertwined with the natural world and are both individual and communal. The entire “village” will be built with local materials from the neighboring town, using simple, practical, and ecologically friendly materials. Sengal Oya is the perfect place to build this dream.

Sengal Oya has two wells so we will never have to pay for water. It is already connected to the electric grid. Connected to other estates, green stretches as far as the eye can see. 3 acres of older trees have recently been cleared to make space for potential buildings. 200 teak trees are growing on the side of the land and 400 coconut trees are growing in the front. The land could generate a substantial amount of money. The teak trees will be ready to harvest in approximately 8 years and could easily pay for any renovations we need at that point. We could continue to plant teak every year to boost income. Coconut harvesting could reliably bring in as much as 1/4 the cost of running the home itself every month. The current man who maintains the land could continue to do so and double as a gatekeeper. In short, the land will not only serve as a beautiful, relaxing place for the girls, but it will actually help pay for the upkeep of the home itself. My head is exploding with ideas!

Sahran has offered to design the houses and landscaping free of charge. He loves our concepts and we spent the whole ride back brainstorming!

With such an optimal location, both by the beach and the airport, it would be easier to recruit international volunteers. The roads to Chilaw and Sengal Oya are also some of the best, if not the best, in Sri Lanka. They are wide, well maintained, and much of the drive is through the country side- an easy drive for people supporting us who live in Colombo.

In short, Sengal Oya is more than ideal. Purchasing land offers a high return on investment- land prices are skyrocketing, often doubling every year! Plus, renting a space in Sri Lanka often causes problems. As soon as one rents and upgrades the space, the owner often takes it back. It’s a waste of money.

So, my new journey is about to begin and I wanted you all to be the first to know. We are sorting out the trust documents this week in Sri Lanka. We aim to kick off our organization by raising $100,000 to purchase this gorgeous piece of land (an absolute steal in Sri Lanka with the current land prices). We will then start slowly with the village, building a few houses at a time as we collect the funds and develop the programs. We already have a pledge for $500/month for life from a local business man. Unbelievable.

I hope you all will get involved in any way you are interested- ideas, contacts, advice, time, money… every bit helps! This would be a dream for these girls and we can make it happen.

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