It took two days, including six hours on a winding rutted mountainous dirt road, for the Eden In Love team to reach the tiny town they’re adopted in Sri Lanka.
But once there, Tanna and Bryson Dang and their crew fell in love with the children and families in the remote village of Nallathaniya and spent the next four days figuring out the best course of action to improve the quality and cleanliness of the village’s water supply.
“Water is the source of everything,” says Tanna. “Without clean and pure water, especially for the children, they’ll be sick and won’t go to school. And then the parents can’t work. It affects everything. So if we improve the water system, we’ll be able to impact so much of their lives.”
Two months ago, the Hawaii boutique won $25,000 in the National Retail Federation’s nationwide “This is Retail” video contest. Already dedicated to philanthropy in Hawaii, the Ward Center boutique owners set their sights higher, determined to reach out internationally to a remote village in need.
Working with the Global Hope Network International, they chose a tiny tea-growing village of 200 perched on a mountainside in Sri Lanka, and were finally able to visit in the past week.
It was an astonishing and moving experience and they committed $15,000 a year for the next five years to help the village develop an improved and self-sustaining system for its water supply.
“This is the seed project, the root project,” says Tanna. “… It starts by planting goodwill in the community and saying we can be trusted.”
Their winning funds went to purchase large holding tanks, cement and pipes, to create an improved system to bring water from the mountaintop reservoir to their village 1,000 feet below, bypassing the leach-filled catchment tank being used now. Villagers have already dug holes for the tanks and laid pipe to launch the project.
“We’re not there to drop $15,000 and get whatever they want,” says Tanna. “It’s about knowledge. We funded the tanks and the pipes but they’re putting in the labor so they have a vested interest in the system. Once they have it they’ll be motivated to keep it clean and pure. Other villages will then see what this village has done and hopefully others will want to do the same thing for themselves.”
The trip to Sri Lanka with their retail and photo team, including Michelle Fujii, Christina Kam, Alyssa Nakao, Rachel Robertson and videographer Julian Gilliam, from 10th Letter Media, was as moving and emotional for the Americans as it was for the villagers in Sri Lanka. The 75 families excitedly awaited their arrival, welcoming them with the few words of English they knew, mostly “hello,” “hi,” and “how are you?” But when the Hawaii group left, they left behind a new word – “aloha” – and a two-way message of hope and love.
“They were just so excited and filled with hope that we could bring them a better life,” said Tanna. “But by the end we realized we were there to learn from them. We’re so lucky. We saw how life can be that happy. For having so little, they had so much. It has changed our perspective about what we think we need to survive. For instance, they’ve never even seen digital cameras, but they were so happy. But the greatest thing for us was recognizing that we’re all the same. They gave us so much inspiration and hope and shared so much love.”
For more information on Eden in Love, read our story, “Behind the Scenes at Eden in Love’s Online Launch,” which appeared in the June 2012 issue of Hawaii Business.
Want a glimpse of the Sri Lankan village Eden in Love visited? Check out this video of the villagers picking tea, featuring Jeff Power of Global Hope Network International.
Photo: Courtesy Tanna Dang