The horror of war left an indelible mark on their tender lives. The TV and the radio too broadcast stories of shooting, exploding bombs, hacking people to death, which caused agony and distraught in them.
The grim spectacle of some of their relatives, friends and neighbours – the victims of terrorist acts being buried at the village cemetery too had its piercing impact on them. The sombre atmosphere failed to console them; it sent out ripples of sorrow through their minds.
This is the saga of the ‘Kids of the Dhamma Ashram’ (kids club) at Panagoda, run under the tender care of Ven. Suduhumpola Wimalasara Thera. He became a source of strength and courage to the children who are in their formative years. His magnetic personality and simplicity had its effect for them to be under his shadow always.
Brig. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brig. Vijaya Wimalaratne too were keen in providing care, shelter and comfort for these children, whose parents the horror of war had snatched.
Bhikkhu Wimalasara was just twenty when he became the saviour of these orphaned children. The Sri Lanka Army Buddhist Association under the patronage of the Panagoda Temple provided permanent shelter to around 4,000 children.
Bhikkhu Wimalasara issued a ‘Writ’ for them to observe Sil on all Poya days. Sil became a sort of a sacrament that bound them together for a moral upbringing. It was the humility of Bhikkhu Wimalasara’s dedication that helped elicit the talents of the children such as singing, dancing and sports.
With the passage of time, the success of the ‘Kids Ashram’ spread far and wide, including suburban areas such as Moratuwa, Meegoda and Deltara. The National Rupavahini and the radio too extended a helping hand in providing coverage to the ‘Kids Ashram’ and its various activities.
Over 3,823 ‘Kids Ashrams’ have been set up islandwide. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had sent his greetings to their exhibition at the Princess of Wales College, Moratuwa in 1996. To fill the void created due to Ven. Wimalasara Thera’s leaving for India for higher education, a Japanese bhikkhu elected himself in mobilsing his support.
The Japanese who became fond of ‘Kids Ashrams’ began to set them up on their own soil. The US, UK, Myanmar and Thailand followed. President Rajapaksa also opened a website in this connection recently.
Children are provided a true religious background which will help mould their characters on religious lines. Respect for parents and elders and lessons on honesty and moral rectitude are taught to them.
Ven. Wimalasara Thera prefers to create a moral-rich society rather than constructing buildings or Viharas. Ven. Kalugamuwe Narada Thera has also extended a helping hand to this worthy cause.
Ven. Vipulasara Thera’s concept of ‘Kids of Dhamma Ashram’ is an invaluable gift to posterity.