Focus: Frontline - Teardrop Relief

Georgina Lock, georgina.lock@haynet.com

WHAT IT IS: An old London Routemaster open-top bus converted into a double-decker mobile play centre, staffed by a team of children's entertainers, which travels to temporary camps set up following the tsunami in Sri Lanka

WHAT IT DOES: Uses entertainment and play to stimulate children affected by the tsunami and help put some fun back into their lives

HOW IT'S FUNDED: The set-up costs of nearly £60,000 have been met by fundraising at schools in England, a boat party and corporate sponsorship from law firm Clifford Chance. Longer-term running costs are now being sought

Lives were devastated by the tsunami that struck on 26 December last year and, 12 months on, many Sri Lankans are still living in camps, waiting for the opportunity to rebuild their homes.

The founders of Teardrop Relief, who all have personal links with the country, set up the charity after they met while doing volunteer relief work at the Sri Lankan High Commission after the disaster. They realised that the basics of shelter, food and education were being provided for those affected, but saw an opening for a project offering activity and play for children.

Last week, the old London bus was taken into camps in Sri Lanka for the first time, putting into practice the charity's mission to "bring back the Sri Lankan smile" by giving children the chance to play.

Excitement

Eshan Goonesekera and Manisha Abayawardana, founding trustees, are in Sri Lanka now and have been driving the bus into the camps. It is believed to be the first time a London Routemaster bus has been on the island, adding to the intrigue and excitement for the children.

Sam Dias, another founder and trustee, said that people were in awe of the bus, and that it was generating a huge amount of excitement among the children.

As the project is in the start-up phase, Teardrop Relief is working with another charity, Children's World International, which has experience of children's play projects and will be instrumental in helping to train locals to become entertainers.

It is also working with Sri Lankan charity Impakt Aid, which is helping to run the project.

The first play schemes in the camps have seen children taking part in a range of activities such as face painting and team ball games, as well as playing with toys and doing art.

Dias said: "It's not formal play therapy, but the project offers little things to help take away the monotony of the day and to help the children take their minds off their current predicament.

"They are not in mourning any more, but there is boredom in the camps, which this sort of stimulation helps to address."

When people move out of the camps and back into homes, the play bus will continue providing its service by visiting orphanages throughout the country.

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