Whoever said a little can go a long way might’ve been talking about Kethes ‘Sri’ Srikanthan.
The Sri Lanka native is known around Bryan County for his involvement with the planning of the Ford Plantation and has been working in and around the Richmond Hill community for almost 25 years.
In 2004, when the tsunami disaster hit his homeland, Srikanthan immediately stepped forward to help.
"My wife and I started our own charity in 2005 and we joined with another organization in Sri Lanka," he said. "People here have been so generous; we’ve had so much support from Richmond Hill since day one."
To get the ball rolling, his foundation Lend a Hand Charity, Inc. began holding an annual gala dinner dance in Savannah for local residents interested in helping the international cause.
The fourth annual event will be this spring on Saturday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto Hotel Ballroom. Tickets requests must be received by April 12, and range from $125 for a personal ticket to $2,000 for a gold sponsor table for 10 people.
Just months after the tsunami, Srikanthan began his vision for the Village of Hope. The goal was, and continues to be, to raise money for the village that has become home to children who were orphaned as a result of the disaster.
Srikanthan said Lend a Hand has already sent close to $350,000 to the Village of Hope in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka – one of the areas hit the hardest by the tsunami. All the money has been raised in the Savannah and Bryan County area, with other donors from across the nation and around the world also raising additional funds.
"I’ve been attending that banquet for a number of years and it’s for a wonderful cause," Mayor Richard Davis said. "The money – from what I understand – every dime of it goes to the Village of Hope, none of it goes to administrative costs. It all goes to the people who need it. I’ve known Sri for a long time and I fully support the fundraiser and do what I can for it. It makes you feel good to have a part in something in like this.
Richmond Hill residents Linda and Larry Barker have also attended the gala each year.
"I’ve known Sri through the Ford Plantation for many years. He’s so gracious and he’s extremely passionate about this cause. We help them every year with sponsorships; it’s a very worthy foundation," Linda Barker said.
Rather than an orphanage, Srikanthan described the Village of Hope as a foster home. He said the village currently has 10 foster mothers, who will eventually each take 10 children. The program currently houses 41 children, ranging from 6-months to 14-years-old.
"We started with the tsunami victims, but then there’s been a civil war which has been raging in Sri Lanka. So children who have lost their parents, or been abandoned or abused have also been taken in," he explained.
Srikanthan last visited the village in October, where he said he was happy to see the children doing well. Two days before his visit, he said there was an attack by the rebels and his wife had concerns about the trip.
"But the children were more important. I told my wife, ‘I need to see these children.’ And that was the highlight of my trip; it was just an absolutely wonderful feeling," he said. "They are so sweet, these children. They all call me ‘Uncle.’"
But not all of the children are having an easy time.
"There’s one girl who really broke my heart…she has been abused. She will not even look at any adults," he said. "The village is a mix of all kinds of children. You cannot stop a child – we cannot turn them away."
He said a major goal at the village is to educate all the children up through high school. The village already has a pre-school on-site, and the older children are bussed out to the local schools.
"We don’t believe in a handout. This is a hand up for these children to come and grow up and be useful," he said, noting he wants to start plans for an elementary school within the compound this year.
The village also has a convent and four Catholic Sisters who oversee the wellbeing of the children, a cafeteria and auditorium, small store, pre-school, medical facility, staff quarters and three small guest houses.
Srikanthan said each foster mother is given $30 per child per month, which is considered to be a lot of money in Sri Lanka, giving the mothers plenty to work with.
While Srikanthan pays for trips to visit and annual registration fees to maintain the charity as a registered non-profit 504 (c) (3), he is looking to those in the community to help sponsor the children.
Srikanthan said every penny of the sponsorships, $360 per year per child, goes into the child’s welfare. Currently, there are 40 sponsorships, but he hopes to get all 100 filled after this year’s gala. Additional funds raised during the gala will help with the growing infrastructure of the village.
In addition to the Lend a Hand Charity, Inc., Srikanthan said the gala dinner dance also helps support a local group. All raffle ticket sales from the event will be donated to the Landings Military Relief Fund of Savannah, which provides emergency services to the families and children of deployed soldiers.
"Every dollar you contribute will be used for the benefit of a child, somewhere in the world," he said.
On April 28, the Monday after the fundraiser, the charity will also hold a golf tournament at the Fort Plantation, open to anyone in the community, for the Landings Military Relief Fund.
For more information about the gala or the golf tournament, contact Srikanthan at 856-9713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.