Friends of Prisoners' Children (FPC) is an association that is committed to help and befriend the children of prisoners who are socially punished for the Crimes of their parents. The FPC is registered at the Ministry of Social Services as an NGO.
The FPC initiated by Sister Immaculate de Alwis and Mrs. Prianthi Dissanayake in 2005, became a fully fledged association in July 2006, with an active membership who share their talents and resources whenever needed. The organization is supported by Prison authorities, lead by the efforts of Superintendent Wickremasinghe of the Welikada Prison.
The FPC helps children rise out of the struggles of having a parent in jail and build for themselves an education-backed and socially integrated life of opportunity, thereby preventing an otherwise vicious cycle of poverty and crime taking root in their lives.
The organization's scholarship program is funded predominantly by individual donors both in Sri Lanka and abroad, who financially adopt the educational needs of a child. Donors deposit an annual sum of Rs. 6,000/- in the savings account of the child till the child completes Year 11 and 12 in school, and receive annual correspondence from the child explaining his or her progress. With 200+ students already integrating into society and educationally benefiting from their scholarships, the FPC hope to increase this number by 50 children in 2009. Sometimes contributions come from unexpected places says Sr. Immaculate: 'A few days ago a gentleman totally unknown to me phoned from Dubai, saying he had read about the project, and wanted to sponsor ten children. He would send the money right-away, and would visit the next time he came to Sri Lanka.
Many students in the program have topped their classes and passed examinations with flying colours; one student, whose father was convicted for murder, obtained 7 distinctions for her GCE O/L and 3 A's for her A/Ls, and now pursues a degree in commerce under the funding of the program having already completed two years of chartered accountancy. This year several students have done very well in the '0' levels, one of them getting 8 'A's. The confidence and sense of social belonging that such achievements and opportunities create for the children, has a positive impact on their overall lifestyle, the choices they make, and the way they conceive society.
A landmark occasion affecting the lives of both the prisoners and their families, occurred last month, when, for the first time permission was given for the family to come into the prison, sit with the prisoners, and share a meal. This was a momentous occasion since a normal visit takes place through a wire-mesh grill with visitors competing to be seen and heard. 'The look of delight on the children's faces when they saw their parents and scrambled across the room to sit on their mother or father's lap was incredibly moving. The pride on their parents faces in turn, simply to see how their children are doing more with their lives than society would otherwise permit them, is inspiration enough to commit all our resources and time to this project' enthuses Sr. Immaculate de Alwis.
The FPC now have dreams of going further to see about the possibility of improving the psychological and nutritional needs of the students. The plan is to invite a 'befriender' named by the students themselves to a regional meeting to explain how they can keep in contact with the FPC and report on any special needs of the child or the family. A small medical clinic will hopefully probe the childs nutritional needs too. A Rotary Club has already come forward to fund the project reports Sr. Immaculate.
Sister Immaculate de Alwis went on to speak of the psychological impact on these children, many of whom, she says, lead double lives, hiding from their schools and friends that their parents are in jail. These children as a result, grow up in an environment of extreme emotional loneliness, harbouring a festering resentment towards society for taking away their parents, their opportunities and their childhood. Such a sense of abandonment and poverty can lead the children to follow their parents' example, to resort to a life of crime as revenge, as sustenance and as the only thing left to do in their emptied lives. The organization uses its scholarship program to sever this otherwise vicious cycle of crime and poverty that this kind of neglect from society can lead to. For more details visit www.prisonerschildren.org.