ChildFund New Zealand Programmes Manager Michael Vujnovich visited Sri Lanka in October to check on progress in the programmes that New Zealanders support. Here Michael gives us an insight into what happens on his annual visits.

Michael being introduced to children

When I’m in Sri Lanka I look at the work ChildFund New Zealand is supporting, meet our Sri Lankan ChildFund colleagues and with children and families who are participating in our programmes. They show me the progress of the projects to demonstrate the difference they’re making and that the funds are well spent. It’s always pretty intense, lots of serious and focused discussions about the causes of poverty, the plans to address them and how those plans are going. All rather heavy stuff, but very interesting (for me at least!) and important to ensure we bring good change in the communities we work in.

Michael meeting children

Sometimes, in amongst all this serious stuff, I have the opportunity to meet with groups of children. I prepare for this – to little kids I must look like a huge gorilla, I’m 6 feet 3 inches, so I don’t want to scare them. I crouch down so they’re taller than me, I speak slowly and quietly, I tell them a bit about my own life. I behave like this because I want them to feel safe and share with me what it’s like for them in their lives and what they aspire to, the challenges they face and how they see themselves and their futures. And sometimes, just sometimes, they really let me know.

One group of children presented a dance they’d been practising, they were fantastic! Other children sang and some showed me their art. They told me about themselves and some of the challenges they face such as the distance to school and the lack of public transport or bikes.

“It is a very long walk, an hour each way,” one very small girl told me. I thought of my own 20 minute long walks to school as a child and realised she was walking at least three times as long, this poor little child!

The children told me about how they are ensuring that their friends attend school with them instead of minding the cattle. These children know that their parents’ income is increasing and that more of their friends are getting access to healthcare and school. These children see a bright future.

Discussing progress

Arriving with a purpose in mind I went about my business, trying to ensure that the funds we raise are well spent in the fight against poverty. My purpose was to assess progress and value. And, while doing this, I met these amazing children. In their opinion the project progresses well. In their opinion there is good change happening in their community. Their lives are improving and they know what’s needed for their lives to continue improving.

This is the point of all our support and work, the point of the projects through which we seek to bring good change in poor communities – the lives and wellbeing of these children.

Why I do this

I’m often asked when I come back to New Zealand how I feel about all the poverty I’ve seen. Honestly, I feel extremely dissatisfied, angry and grimly determined to do something about the fact that children grow up in poverty, threatened and hungry. But it’s not about me, it’s not about how I feel.

So I lock my feelings away and get driven from the inside by them. It is like a huge pressure, an impatience, a seething rage against the rotten sick injustice of it. But, the veneer cracks a bit, sometimes a lot, when I see children flourishing like this… I well up with tears when I see how their lives are changed as they and their families slowly free themselves from poverty and yes, in spite of or perhaps because of my feelings, my heart breaks with hope.

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