NOWWOW, the new kid on the block

New Opportunities for Wounded, Widowed and Orphans of War – that’s the groundbreaking new charity out there!

Anyone who had been glancing through the many pages of web-based news media for the latest developments on the home front couldn’t have missed out on the poignant story presented in reporting and pictures of a group of poor kids of Kilinochchi proudly posing with their new bikes presented to them by the Member of Parliament Mr. Sivagnanam Shritharan, thanks to the initiative of a North American Charity called New Opportunities for Wounded, Widowed and Orphans of War (NOWWOW). The students who live far away from their schools will now have an impetus not to miss out on the classes. NOWWOW feels that it has made use of an excellent opportunity to ensure that the hopes and dreams for the future of Vanni don’t falter due to negligence. NOWWOW is the new kid on the block, but it is determined to cater to the livelihood of one widow at a time, the future prospects of one student at a time, the care and parenting support for one orphan at a time and medical help for one disabled at a time.

The story of NOWWOW goes back to the traumatic days that surrounded the final phase of civil war in Vanni. Naturally, the members of the Tamil Diaspora were troubled from the knowledge that their brethren in Vanni were hurting from the lack of even minimum amenities for a semblance of civilized life. Many a disorganized effort had been mounted to help individuals of that mass-suffering in a sporadic manner; like the university student who would have committed suicide if she didn’t find out how she was going to complete her half-finished education, the paraplegic breadwinner who would have done the same thing if he thought such an act would alleviate the pain and sufferings of his already overburdened family having to care for him , a young girl of a good education and decent background, not knowing any better, venturing to prostitute her body in order to save the souls of her illegitimate children born out of rape. These good-hearted yet piecemeal solutions offered by the individuals of the Diaspora couldn’t even begin to touch the heart-rending, gut-wrenching pain and anguish that the war victims of North and East of Sri Lanka were going through!

To be sure, the task on hand was gargantuan enough. Following the brutal war which in many instances included bombing and strafing of the civilian hideouts there were more than 90,000 young widows left to fend for themselves and their young ones, more than a few thousand orphans, and in all hundreds of thousands of victims. There was generous reconstruction aid from countries around the world which for some reason didn’t reach many a needy person.

It is in this kind of set up, that some of the activists from the Diaspora, five of them to be precise, set out to tackle the puzzle one piece at a time. They would incorporate a US based charity with the express purpose of helping the underprivileged in the homeland, in matters such as life-sustenance, ensuring the normal future of the orphaned kids and helping the erstwhile breadwinners who now lay disabled and had become an unbearable burden to the very families that they were supposed to upkeep.

Ever since its incorporation, NOWWOW has gone about very systematically, in identifying its priorities and devising an action plan. Being the newest one on the block it had its own hurdles to surmount the biggest one being finance. Due to this constraint, initially it had to embark on three types of projects :

    i) Facilitating the continued education of the young ones worst affected by the war
    ii) Introducing microcredit and cooperative ventures to the young widows as a means of self-sustenance; and;
    iii) Offering medical help to the war disabled who were family bread winners and whose recovery was vital for family’s financial recuperation.

Recently, in its effort to keep students of Vanni within the school system, NOWWOW undertook to donating 50 bicycles as a means of transportation to those poor students having difficulty in getting to the school. In identifying fifty of the most-deserving, NOWWOW used the services of the Office of the local parliamentarian Mr. Sivagnanam Shritharan. When NOWWOW solicited funds for the project, the North American Diaspora supported it enthusiastically. Having managed to strike all positive notes, be it in identifying funding or in carrying out this project, NOWWOW considers this, its first project not just a step but a runaway success.

Before the reopening of schools in the next school year, NOWOW will undertake another project in the Tsunami stricken, flood-prone Eastern province which received scant recovery aid. It will provide school supplies to the deserving students there. It has already set out to do the necessary fund-raising for the project and it hopes to cover the basic needs of over 3000 students. At the distribution stage, it will again seek the help of the local parliamentarian to identify and prioritize the most deserving of the needy. Depending on the degree of fund-raising success, NOWWOW will expand the scope of the project to provide free tuition to students in higher grades, utilizing the services of the more than 4,000 unemployed Tamil graduates in the area for this purpose.

In addition to the local parliamentarians, NOWWOW also engages other aid organizations on the ground, and religious leaders in the area, in identifying deserving persons using their familiarity with the issues to speed up the otherwise lengthy process , particularly the young women who are amenable to training in new ideas and ventures. It hopes to expose them to the concepts of microcredit and cooperative ventures as self-help tools. NOWWOW has in mind to encourage the deserving persons in the Startup of small businesses, startup or improvement in dairy and poultry as well as other modes of farming. Depending on the circumstances, NOWWOW will advance partially or fully, the initial capital outlay for any sustainable small business. It will also furnish help in technical, accounting and planning matters.

Yet another project in the pipeline has got to do with stabilizing family lives through medical help. Salient features of this project are psychiatric help, psychological counseling, helping with the costs for artificial limbs, and long term help with medication costs. This is an idea which has yet to be fleshed out. NOWWOW is feverishly working on the essential financing and logistics of this project. When fully functional, it will involve coordinating the work of several other aid agencies where NOWWOW will have a significant impact on the lives of homeland Tamils.

Beyond its direct involvement in such matters, NOWOW also encourages the local populace in the homeland to get involved in areas such as sponsoring families, becoming counselors, and becoming mentors. It also seeks volunteers both in the homeland and from within the diaspora to help in its own managerial, social media and communication, clerical and technical work schedules such as fundraising, project identification and planning, progress monitoring and in liaising with local partners.

Presently, the charity is run by a five member board all of whom are volunteers with their own full time day jobs. No compensation is paid for their services from NOWOW which translates into minimal overheads that make NOWWOW stand above other charities. Speaking enthusiastically about their commitment, the President of the charity Ms. Suba Suntharalingam observed that even though a major part of their free time gets tied up with tasks related to NOWWOW, none of them consider it as a sacrifice. “It is an educational opportunity and a great learning experience, it is a great way to connect with the land you were born in, it is a good training ground in leadership qualities, and above all, it is a process of self-actualization”, she beamed! She also stated that further news on the pipeline of projects by NOWWOW would be available in the Canadian and American media shortly.

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