In the ongoing aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, children are too often forgotten in Galle and are woefully vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The dark side of an attractive tourist destination
Tourism bolsters the economy of Galle, the fourth largest town in Sri Lanka, located on the coast of the Southern Province. Beautiful beaches bring thousands of tourists each year and with them wealth and a better standard of living for locals. However, despite these benefits, tourism in Galle has a darker side. Galle has become notorious for child sex tourism, especially with regard to the sexual exploitation of young boys by foreign tourists. There are 40,000 child sex workers in Sri Lanka, it is estimated.
Children in Galle are vulnerable to sexual exploitation
The children of Galle lack support and safety due to the economical strife of their parents: children whose parents cannot afford to look after them and especially those whose mothers are forced to look abroad for work, are, more often than not, left home alone and fall prey to sexual exploitation. Worse still, most rape victims are shunned by their families and the community as a whole. Children are also put at risk by alcoholism among their parents, whilst children living in slums are exposed to open drug use. Under these conditions, too many children in Galle drop out of school and fall on the mercy of corrupt and exploitative employers.
Our Work in Galle
SOS Children began its work in Galle in 1990. Today, 12 SOS families provide a loving home for over 100 children from the region. In each family, the children live with their SOS brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 devastated Galle, leaving a great deal of the city’s infrastructure in ruins and taking the lives of thousands. In response, we set up safe places for 500 children, and the older children from the SOS youth programme in Galle helped to distribute food and to clean up the community offices. We also provided families with start-up grants to build temporary shelters and to buy basic essentials.
Our community work
Today SOS runs a family strengthening programme within the local community, lending support to vulnerable families and providing children with a safe and loving home. We make sure that the children are well nourished, have access to health provisions and education by feeding them nutritious meals, buying them textbooks and even giving them extra tuition. We now have a new library and computer room in two of the locations where our outreach programme works.
Helping families achieve self-sufficiency
We want families to achieve financial independence. This way, they can earn a sustainable livelihood and provide proper care for their children. We help them secure micro-loans and grow their own businesses.
Tackling malnutrition and Galle's health need
SOS works alongside local health authorities to provide much-needed medical care to the community, including antenatal care and immunisation programmes. We provide children identified as malnourished with a high-protein diet. Further to this, we run nutritional programmes for mothers and children and provide counselling and psychological support to over 240 families.
The children attend our SOS Nursery alongside children from the neighbourhood, ensuring that they make friends and are integrated into their local community. They then go on to attend local schools together. When the children reach adolescence, we give them the option of continuing onto our SOS youth programme. This enables them to pursue further education or vocational training, while continuing to guide them in their journey to living independently - they live in shared houses, and are supervised and guided by an SOS counsellor who encourages them to take responsibility and to take control of their future.
We have supported families in Galle through the one of the most devastating natural disasters of recent times. As a long-term presence in the area, we will be there for the most vulnerable members of the community long into the future.