OverviewThe island nation of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean, and is separated from the southern tip of India by 25 miles. Most of Sri Lanka consists of low-lying flatlands, but the south-central region is mountainous, with the highest point found at Pidurutalagala peak on Mt. Pedro. The tropical climate of Sri Lanka allows for consistently warm temperatures throughout the year, with extremes reaching as high as 100 degrees on the northeast coast and dropping as low 61 degrees in the highlands. There are two monsoon seasons, one covering the northeast from June to October, and the other drenching the southwest December to March.
With nearly 20 million people, Sri Lanka has one of the highest population densities in Asia, accommodating 758 people per square mile. The Sinhalese people make up 74 percent of the population, while the Tamils form the largest minority group at 18 percent. Other groups include the Vedda, who live in the forest areas, the Moors, who trace their lineage to Arab traders, the Burghers, of mixed European descent, and the Malays from Southeast Asia. Sinhala and Tamil are the two official languages of Sri Lanka. English is used primarily for education and commercial purposes and is spoken by 10 percent of the population.
Both the Sinhalese and the Tamils emigrated to the island more than 2,000 years ago from the Indian subcontinent. The Tamils, primarily Hindus, settled in the northern area of the country, while the Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, controlled the south. Known as Ceylon prior to 1972, Sri Lanka became an English Crown colony in 1802. Nearly 150 years later, nationalist leaders successfully championed for self-government. The country’s first prime minister, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, made Sinhala the official national language and Buddhism the state-supported religion. The Tamil minority’s mounting resentment toward the Sinhalese monopoly on political and economic power, exacerbated by cultural and religious differences, erupted into civil war in 1983.
|By early 2000, 17 years of civil war had claimed the lives of more than 64,000 people, mostly civilians. The government and the Tamil rebels agreed to a cease-fire in February 2002, but sporadic fighting continued. The tsunami in December 2004 that ravaged 12 Asian countries killed a reported 38,000 people in Sri Lanka. The government and the rebels reached a deal the following summer to share a $4.5 billion international aid package to help rebuild the country, but escalating violence threatened to negate the deal. In January 2008, the Sri Lankan government called off the cease-fire agreement, leading to intensified fighting in the north and east. Today, the death toll from the war stands at an estimated 70,000 people, while more than 500,000 are still displaced, mostly Tamils. In the past 25 years, nearly 6,300 children under the age of 18 have been forcibly recruited to fight in the war. |
In addition to civil war, Sri Lanka faces another challenge in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Property damage was extensive, and hundreds of thousands of people have fallen into poverty after losing their jobs and homes. Currently, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty threshold, and more than 40 percent survive on less than $2 per day. Due to the frequency of droughts and the history of conflict, there has been a decreasing focus on agriculture in recent years and a rise in the textile and garment industries. Several well-known apparel brands are manufactured throughout the country. Despite this thriving industry, Sri Lanka is classified as a low-income, food-deficit nation. Malnutrition occurs in 29 percent of children nationally, but in the war-torn eastern and northern sections of the country, those rates are much higher, and at times double the national average.
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World Vision’s history in Sri LankaWorld Vision’s initial involvement in Sri Lanka began in 1969 with a pastors conference in the city of Kandy. A national office was established in 1977 in Colombo, the nation’s capital, providing ministry to the people through disaster relief, development programs, Christian leadership, and evangelism. Projects during the 1970s included:
Child sponsorship in Sri Lanka began in 1987 with 1,614 children, providing immunizations, health care, nutritional programs, and education. Development programs continued to assist in the organization of nursery schools, the promotion of self-employment activities, agriculture, and small trades and businesses. By 1990, there were 6,492 sponsored children and a total of 86 projects.
Other projects during the 1980s provided loans to 50 handicapped, disabled, and injured persons for the purpose of training in agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicrafts. These allowed participants to increase their income and support their families. Efforts to reconstruct homes and introduce income-generating projects, such as broom-making, wood crafting, dressmaking, and animal husbandry, benefitted 45 families from the most economically disadvantaged and oppressed sections of the community affected by terrorist violence.
In the 1990s, three flood relief projects assisted victims in the Eastern Province and the Hambantota District by providing agricultural support, food, bedding, and repairs to a dam. By 1995, there were 23,260 sponsored children and 128 projects. Other projects during this period included:
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World Vision in Sri Lanka todayWorld Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Sri Lanka to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 61,581 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor nearly 16,000 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 26 development programs, six of which are supported by U.S. donors. A highlight of these efforts includes the following:
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