The past two decades have seen both tragedy and hope. More than 15 years ago, tragedy struck when the Indian Ocean tsunami submerged the coast, killing 600 people in Vanathi’s village and nearly wiping it off the map.
Now, Vanathi can hear the lapping of waves and cries of seagulls filling the air, combined with the shouts of fish vendors at the market. Unattended children run in the streets, while others help their parents haul and sell the fish caught while out at sea. The brash voices of fishmongers and fishermen and the yells of the children collide in a cacophony, starkly contrasting the serenity of the waves.
Instilling Discipline, Giving Love
It would be difficult for a visitor now to imagine the devastation of 15 years ago, after the deadly 2004 tsunami swept through. Around 235,000 people perished in the deadly waves, leaving the survivors to pick up the pieces.1 After the waves receded, GFA workers stepped in to help those affected. One initiative that remains today is the Bridge of Hope Program.
Vanathi’s village received one of the first Bridge of Hope centers, and 7-year-old Vanathi was among the first to enroll. Before participating in Bridge of Hope, Vanathi hadn’t gone to school because it wasn’t a priority for her parents. For most families, rebuilding took precedence over everything else, even their children’s education. Despite this obstacle, teachers, like Jakki, offered instruction and guidance to the children.
“The child who comes to the Bridge of Hope Project Center is well-focused in their studies,” Jakki says. “The [Bridge of Hope center] children are disciplined and orderly. But the children who do not come to the Project Center are not focused in their studies even though they go to the school. … They don’t know what to do after they come from the school. …The Bridge of Hope children have someone to guide and motivate, someone to teach them.”
Inspired to Change Lives
Vanathi, in particular, had been a troublesome child. A lack of discipline allowed Vanathi to unleash her childish but potent anger on anyone and everyone. Yet, as the years passed, the schooling, guidance and encouragement Vanathi received at Bridge of Hope transformed her from an angry little girl into a refined young woman. Looking back, the difference between Vanathi now and then is like night and day.
“I was a girl of anger,” Vanathi says. “Now I am [one] of peace.”
Jakki and other teachers educated Vanathi and the other children in every aspect of life. Love, understanding, grace, peace and other values were taught at the Bridge of Hope center. The children also learned valuable life skills, such as studying properly and efficiently. Any help they needed did not go unnoticed or unaided.
“In the beginning, I only knew that we were going to get educational support,” Vanathi says. “But after entering in the BOH, then [I discovered] that this project [center] is phenomenal and it helps and brings hope to my future. The things which they provided are so supportive to my family. … [Bridge of Hope] is the reason I could attend my higher education.”
That higher education is a pursuit of a computer science degree—something that previously would have been out of Vanathi’s reach. In addition, the guidance Vanathi received inspired her to help other children in need, just as her teachers helped her.
“I would like to help other children … and guide these children so they could learn the fullness of life,” she says.
- “Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.” Encyclopedia Britannica. www.britannica.com/event/Indian-Ocean-tsunami-of-2004. 19 December, 2019.