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Phase 61: October till December 2014

There is no school, no kindergarten, no shop, no place where they can gather. In Sri Lanka people live widely scattered in rural regions and far away from the next village. With the money they earn from farming they only barely manage to survive and for the children the way to the next school is often too long. Here too Little Smile helps people to help themselves. While we take care of the planning and provide the materials, the people from the forests around Gampaha take over the work. This is how we build a community center together in which later also children will be taught.
It’s a race against the rainy season. The pepper harvest 2014 has to be dried, cleaned, sorted and packed. It is not necessary for our child-minder, Bawani, to persuade the girls. On the first Saturday in October they all join in and help to clean and sort pepper. As a reward for this we shared a picnic when the work was done.
On October 5, the 7th anniversary of Maria Theresia Kreitmeir’s death, the mother of Little Smile’s founder and the grandmother of all the kids here, we remember this wonderful woman – without her love Little Smile would never have become reality. “Only those who have experienced love can give love”, was her credo. And what she gave her own children once in the Bavarian Eichstätt bears fruit today through her third child Michael in Sri Lanka.
In the middle of the month the monsoon rains heavily started to pour down and thus also the time of colds started. And with the fever often also come tears – many of the children in Little Smile have a sad past, they mostly got blows instead of love. Quite contrary to what they experience here: Even if Michael Kreitmeir often does not know where to find the time to fulfill all the waiting tasks and duties, he always has time for children like Monisha who need some comfort.
Eventually everyone catches a cold during the rainy season, no-one escapes the wet weather and the many viruses. And especially in a place where many people live tightly packed together as we do here in the children’s village, coughs and fevers easily spread and suddenly entire houses are sick. The five-year-old Punzella has wrapped up warmly since it’s quite cold today, with temperatures just around 18 degrees.
Where a huge Hindu temple once stood, now only shatters of the statue of a god are lying in the brown mud. Ruthless overexploitation of nature, bad maintenance of sewage pipes and drains together with heavy rainfall let the earth in the vicinity of our children’s village slid. Within a few minutes 60 houses were covered with 10 meters of mud, about 50 people died. Michael Kreitmeir is shocked and can’t believe that except from this statue nothing is left from a place with lots of houses, trees, roads, a temple and a community center.
Initially hundreds of people are reported missing, confusion and fear dominate the first night of the survivors, who have sought refuge in the Tamil school. Nobody knows how many victims the landslide caused, possibly up to 600. In such a night all that remains is hope and therefore it is good, that there are people who tell that there are more camps, that there is hope and that a new morning lies ahead.
The worst thing of all, says a truck driver, who lost his entire family by the catastrophe, is the fact that you cannot say farewell, people are wiped out and there is nothing left for farewells. Already at the beginning of November it is clear that there are no more survivors under the mud and the search is stopped. The final farewell from so many people we have known is also for us here in the children’s village very hard.
Life goes on and so we had to find a way to teach the Tamil children at Little Smile now that their school served as a refugee camp. With five teachers and our volunteer Miriam, Annkathrin Blank organized an emergency curriculum within only two days and pretty soon it became apparent, that she had made a virtue of necessity, because teachers as well as pupils really enjoyed their classes in the children’s village – best guarantee for success.
The entry into kindergarten at the beginning of November brings some kind of cheer and lightness into the lives of the twins Sudu and Sadu. Although they are only two years and five months old they absolutely wanted to go and so we let them. In Wisdom House, where they live, their first day was celebrated accordingly afterwards.
Not only victims of the enormous landslide suffer from the effects of the unusual heavy rainfall. Many people here live in small huts which do not resist the masses of water. Notably affected are widows and abandoned women. Without help even something as simple as a sheet of metal to repair the roof remains an unreachable luxury. And in our region there is only one place where to find help.
The boy’s house on Hill Top got a visit, a very special visit. A Franciscan brother from the Philippines – named Angel! – lived for some weeks together with our boys and learned from Bawani much more than only how to cook Tamil meals. In the end he liked this place so much that he would have preferred to stay longer.
On October 5th 2011, on the occasion of the opening of a school in Kalmunai named after his wife, Josef Kreitmeir, father of the founder of Little Smile, planted a mango tree. At the school graduation ceremonies at the end of November 2014 sister Lucrece could already pick some mangoes from the meanwhile relatively tall tree. And the pupils showed at the school festival that the Maria Theresia College bears even more fruit.
After a hard and sad November we began the last month of the year 2014 sending a sign of hope. Thus the lighting of the first candle on our Advent wreath in the chapel of the children’s village had a deep symbolic meaning.
It was an unexpected nocturnal visit. Policemen brought four children by an order of the Court, who shortly before had witnessed a violent crime. As is so often the case, our children’s village is the only place in the province UVA where four siblings can be accommodated at short notice and receive protection and a home.
On December 11, the 87th birthday of his mother, the 8th anniversary of her death, Michael Kreitmeir lays the foundation stone for another school building of the Maria Theresia College. The international school in Kalmunai has grown in the four years since its opening to such an extent that new class rooms were desperately needed. That is especially a credit to sister Lucrece (picture on the right) and her tireless commitment.
Will they still laugh in three months when they get their results? For seven girls and four boys the moment of truth had arrived in December when they had to take the examination of the so-called O level. As you can see, they were in good spirits and, furthermore, the youngest and the oldest “boy” kept their fingers firmly crossed.
Shortly before Christmas Miriam left the children’s village. Three months she lived with and for the 12- and 14-year-old kids from Lucky House. At the end it was very hard for her to say good-bye even though she was looking forward to celebrate Christmas with her family in Bavaria. And since tears won’t help, they preferred to laugh together.
For the first time in their life all children on this picture celebrate Christmas and get presents. Senuri, the little Santa Claus, only joined us 3 weeks ago. Here in the children’s village her wounds from outside can heal step by step.
Normally Christmas in the children’s village is something special. But 2014 constant rainfall and power failures made it quite difficult for us in this spacious area. Therefore, the nocturnal celebration had to be postponed to the next day.  
Even if the children’s village was unharmed by the tsunami ten years ago, it has affected Little Smile in other respects. We have accomplished unbelievable things, but precisely this has led to a lot of envy and jealousy. Exactly ten years after the horrible catastrophe the children gathered in Mainhouse. With silent, contemplative tones and prayers we commemorate all the people who have died in the incident, but also all the victims of the landslide that happened two months ago.
At the end of the year many different groups of people come to the children’s village to thank their Lokuthatha and wish him a happy New Year. What they have in common is that they owe to Michael Kreitmeir and Little Smile a lot. So the students of our Ayurvedic school in Buttala too, they said thank you for having received the possibility to learn without having to pay for it.