Prison Outreach – Holi Fundraiser

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On the day of Food & Fun Fair that our school’s PTA hosts, we decided to hold a Holi event at the same time and fundraise for the prison’s children and to raise awareness of the issue. We also thought it was a good way to  engage our school in a cultural celebration since it hasn’t been celebrated on school grounds in a long time.

We decided this because the prison was busy with other organizations working with the children. It prevented us from visiting them regularly as we once did I think it was still a good way to get the group actively engaged in some sort of planning. Together we thoroughly planned this event: from how to get powder, how to organize and promote the event, to cleanup.

The Holi event was a big success and went smoothly. We ran out of Holi powder quickly but for the good hour and half, a fair amount of people gathered and gave us tickets to play with their friends. We earned around 11,300Rs, for our idea to bring them outside of the prison for trips to the zoo and other supplies, such as cleaning supplies, bedsheets and toys.

I’m glad many people enjoyed it and were interested in the cause. Some people came solely to donate. I hope we get to see the children and provide them with more happiness.

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Prison Outreach – Mural on Children’s Ward

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possible mural draft design that I created (handprint credit)

On the 14th of January, 2016, our service went to gather the measurements of the prison for other external painting jobs that the maintenance staff of the prison should paint. I made a document organizing the information and what we decided needed to be painted, as per what Ms. Rangika (our teacher supervisor/leader) had suggested:

The prison has already accepted to paint these walls and replace the door.
For our personal mural, the painting date was postponed several times by the prison due to a new commissioner of the prison and now due to International Women’s Day, other groups are working in the prison and therefore we couldn’t go.  However, Ariana, one of the leaders of the service, managed to get a sponsor from the German Embassy to go ahead and provide funds for the paint supplies needed to paint this wall of the children’s ward in the prison.

We are still working on making sure this can be filmed and recorded, despite the strict rules of the prison, because we want some lasting memory of it and to be able to share it with our OSC community what this service has achieved recently.

For now, in the upcoming Food & Fun Fair that our school hosts, we will have an opportunity to hold a Holi fundraising event and there will be more news on that as the date approaches.

Update: unfortunately, even after several attempts at contacting the prison to repaint walls and fix the daycare with our contributions, we had to wait weeks upon weeks until the school year came to a close and they had kept stalling the process… however, I am still satisfied with the design and our initiative. I hope the paints we did give to them went towards good use.

Reflecting on Issues of Global Importance

(Wikimedia Commons)

After returning from the winter break and beginning a new year, a reflection upon my activities from last semester are long overdue. In particular I’m going to reflect on issues of global importance that concern some of my activities:

In Model United Nations (MUN), I actively engage with these issues by listening and discussing during practice debates in the sessions at school. As a whole MUN is researching, speaking, and debating and drafting with resolutions about complex issues internationally. It is simulation of the UN which strives to solve and discuss issues from different nation’s perspectives. My first practice debate especially showed me so many stances on gender equality across the world. Sometimes in MUN I feel slightly useless, discussing and speaking on issues but not being able to directly take action. However, MUN is still incredibly important in my understanding of issues of global importance because it provides me with multiple viewpoints from countries all around the world and that understanding is a good way to take action and help me be already aware of why I do service and why we all do community service, or why we learn what we do in History class, or in other classes. I can’t speak as well as the other experienced MUNers, but I hope I can develop that skill more as it’s important, especially considering world leaders today; its important to speak up about an issue locally & globally. 

Scuba diving with PADI also taught me certain issues related to the ocean that are of international concern. I learned a lot about environmental concerns in scuba diving, especially about global warming and ocean acidification and conserving marine wildlife. All the e-learning and even short bursts of information from our instructors reminded us of this concern. When we went diving it was made clear not to remove anything from the ocean back to shore, like coral; and our instructor even was able to remove garbage from the ocean in one of our dives. We were also taught certain safety measures and those are important skills to have. The course especially strengthened my knowledge about ocean acidification, pollution, the bleaching of coral reefs and importance of corals and the protection of marine wildlife. Knowing all this allowed me to become a responsible and eco-conscious scuba diver. Since I want to be able to dive in other places besides Sri Lanka, it is good to know the issues associated with scuba that affect other parts of the world as well.

Imprisonment is a huge issue globally. The treatment of prisoners across different countries varies and it is something that must be taken into account when considering the degrees of crimes and punishment. In my opinion, there is a huge stigma surrounding prison and prison culture worldwide. Through this service, I was able to see a different perspective, through the surroundings and my own experience. Outside of the Welikada Prison that we visit as a service group, there are murals of prisoners doing work and underneath it, it states “Prisoners are human beings”. When we drive up to the women’s ward, there are more murals of women nursing children. On a local scale through my service group, Prison Outreach, we were able to more thoroughly understand sensitivities associated with prison and reach out to the imprisoned women and even their children. In particular we heard a lot of interesting things about the prison and the likelihood of fights breaking out in the women’s ward, etc. These sort of stories molded a negative image in my mind of what the children had to face and made me a little nervous to go in the first place. However, getting a chance to see inside the prison and do small things for them like provide them with food, play with them and teach them, really changed my view of how I perceived prison to be. I joined this service initially for helping women reestablish themselves and restart their lives after prison, but interacting with the kids let me see that they were such bright, happy children who deserved more than the image of miserable kids stuck in a dreary prison. I personally never really thought I could get along with kids, especially ones 5 years and younger. Yet any opportunity we can give them to smile is always my favorite thing about this service.

 

Prison Outreach – Christmas

For our service group, it was crucial to see the children one last time before the winter break, and what better way to do that than holding a small Christmas party for them?

Financially, our service was in a rut. We are a fairly new service and only had one fundraiser through the bake sale. Before this spontaneous donations collection, we were too focused on gathering money and buying gifts personally. We planned an in-school dance fundraiser, but too many problems occurred in the planning of the event (including catering, getting a DJ, turnout, profit and time to prepare and set it up) that it was only reasonable to cancel it.

We do not have a lot of funds left from our account so the gifts we decided to give had to be donations. This was a good way of getting the OSC community involved in our service and helping the children in the prison indirectly. A lot of people have unwanted toys that they were willing to give away after we asked around, so we decided to put up a bulletin asking for donations as well as send out an email.

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We went out to the prison the following Thursday, December 3rd, 2015. Although it was a little last minute, we managed it together. Ariana and I spent a good chunk of time wrapping the presents, even though they ended up getting ripped apart during the security check. This was disheartening because one of the joys of receiving presents was opening them. However, I still understood the reasons why; we should’ve considered that some gifts might be potentially harmful to have inside the prison. Receiving all these toys from OSC student and faculty including toy cars, dolls, stuffed animals in such a short amount of time was amazing. All of the toys were still in great condition to be re-gifted. We managed Santa to hand out gifts and food (thank you Leonie in Grade 10!) and we spent the rest of the time playing with the children and their gifts. It made me the happiest to see a kid’s face light up when they received a cute stuffed cat. Even their mothers were happy to see their kids enjoy the gifts.

I hope for the future we are able to bring the children outside of the prison. Its been suggested we could bring them to school or take them to the zoo. This would be a great chance for the children to see the world outside of prison and I hope it happens! For now our biggest project is painting the prison and creating a mural for the prison. In an upcoming post I will highlight all the outcomes of planning this painting and hopefully will have some images to share.

 

Prison Outreach – The First Visit

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Mural outside of prison, from Google Maps

On September 24th 2015, our service group Prison Outreach visited the women’s ward of the Welikada Prison for the first time. We prepared a few activities for this first visit, where we would see the children living with their mothers. Ariana and I prepared coloring pages and coloring pencils and markers for the children. I think our first visit as a group really allowed us to see who we were helping and the conditions they lived in. As a group this exposure was crucial, especially as a new service. Unfortunately, I can only document the visit in words because bringing in cameras/recording devices wasn’t allowed. Approving the first visit wasn’t easy; we had to get our parent’s permission and the prison’s permission, which was a process that took about one or two weeks. 

Upon arriving at the prison, I was a little bit anxious; I wasn’t sure what to expect, only what our service teacher supervisor had said. There were a lot of precautions to take before entering: they had to make sure we were dressed appropriately and they conducted a body check. While waiting we also saw the many visitors, and the atmosphere was a little hectic. 
However, when we finally approached the children at their daycare within the prison, they shouted, “They’re coming!” and greeted us. Any nervousness I had beforehand was gone; the children were so welcoming and so were their mothers, who were telling the children to meet us. Working with the children afterwards and coloring was a delight! It made us truly feel like we shared something new with them, especially because they were so excited. Some mothers were a little protective of their children, but I think with more visits we can slowly break that wall between us. The children were of varying ages and some were more shy than others, yet some of them opened up when they saw how fun it was to draw and read stories together. I found it difficult to communicate with them in Sinhala… but it didn’t stop me from trying anyways (telling the kids that their coloring was “lassana”/pretty in Sinhala repeatedly). In the end I attempted to be very expressive and engaging with the children with gestures. When we left, the mothers are children all gathered outside to bid us farewell with warm smiles and waves.

 In the bus, the whole service group reflected on the visit which was extremely helpful; I found out that other people shared my feelings and it brought us closer. Teaching the children was also a personal learning experience. I could figure out certain phrases in Sinhala to praise the children and I  learned a new style of interacting with children, without words. My childhood is from theirs. I knew with this visit I can finally make a difference. I can emotionally connect to children who don’t share the luxuries I have in my life. I understand now that this is something I want to commit myself to, because I empathized with these children on another level. Even though I was enjoying myself and so were the children, afterwards I realized they do not get to enjoy that experience daily whereas I did when I was a child. That only strengthened my determination to help them in every way possible through this service.

In fostering that relationship, I can’t wait to learn more about the children and possibly their mothers with following visits. Balancing between creative and physical activities allows every visit to be unique, not only for us but for the children. Now that we have seen the conditions, we know that they are in need of cleaning supplies and perhaps a makeover of their surroundings. We decided to paint the interior of their classroom after the October break. We were coloring in the classroom, and it was a little gloomy and in need of a paint job. Instead of painting it a plain color we planned to make a small mural, which would mean we can get other artists from our school involved in the designing process. This would also create more meaning to our contribution and raise awareness within our school’s community.

In our next visit, we are planning to bring in gifts for the children’s hygiene and diet and play outdoor games with them. I hope the children are as excited to see us as they were before, because I can’t wait to see them again.

Prison Outreach – Introduction & Bake Sale

I joined a new service group this year, in hopes of aiding in establishing foundation and really exploring the lives of not only women in Sri Lankan prison and the psychological and physical effects on them, but also their children. Children born behind bars by these imprisoned mothers only leave when they turn 5 years old. The prison officials said the children are in need of many supplies and materials to improve their physical conditions. 

We started to plan two ways to tackle this firstly, a fundraiser, where the money will be used to buy the supplies; and secondly, a donation drive in which we will collect items from people’s homes that are commonly found & in good condition. 

Planning for the bake sale did not go perfect the first time; we had to change the date from Wednesday 16th to Wednesday 23rd because it was too short notice and wasn’t advertised enough. After the meeting on the 17th, it was finalized. Everyone had something to contribute and we decided on appropriate amounts and prices. 

I gladly accepted being promptly put in charge of creating posters, making the logo and most of the creative elements of the service group. I created two posters already for the two ways above (donation drive, bake sale). We found that the best way to approach the bake sale is to add some way that people can engage and learn more about the service, leading us to the idea of “making a wish” for the children. 

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click through for bigger preview

The bake sale was extremely successful and we worked well as a team to sell the variety of goods. In total we managed to raise a total of 11 000 LKR, which is an amazing amount for our first bake sale! All of the cupcakes and waffles and half of the cookies were sold, but because we had sold such a variety of foods (both savory and sweet) we didn’t manage to finish selling the fries or popcorn. Nevertheless, it was good to learn what was popular to sell at school. 

   

I think an element we could’ve developed was the intellectual/creative engaging component, i.e. getting the customers to write a wish or draw something for the children so they have more awareness of where their money is going to. However, due to the conditions of the place we decided to sell this was too inconvenient. Everyone was waiting quite a long time in the hot & humid cafeteria while standing, and there was no space to write with the food occupying much of the space.

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 Hopefully through the donation drive we can raise awareness and engage people intellectually and creatively. It is one of our long term projects and people will have to think about what they bring/donate to the children. Soon we will invest in going on a trip together to buy the supplies with the money we earned.