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Sri Lanka: Where small
miracles occur daily

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A straggler runs to catch the bus. | Benjamin Weatherston

A straggler runs to catch the bus. | Benjamin Weatherston

By Cathy Franklin

Early one morning as I sipped black coffee (exhibiting the true signs of a foreigner to not take it milky white and heavy with sugar) out of a porcelain teacup reserved for the American visitors, I watched the sun rise high above the water, warming the air like an oven. My new friend, Benjamin Weatherston, was busy plotting his next opportunity to take portraits of the girls as we stared at a decades-old hunk of metal on wheels, powered by an engine that miraculously chokes its way to life in the early hours each morning. In large letters, the single word — “Special” — is printed above the windshield of the green and white school bus.

One by one, the girls, sporting their white dresses and red ties, the required attire for the Methodist school they attend, boarded the bus. It was exam week and with the school year coming to a close, the girls were buzzing with energy. They were unsure what our presence on the bus meant, but were still happy to oblige when Ben gently directed them where to sit. I assisted, coffee in hand, by occasionally coaxing a toothy smile as he casually moved from one subject to the next.

Just as we began marveling at how smooth the process was working, the driver turned over the engine. It sputtered and choked, protesting loudly as he shifted the bus, rocking it back and forth. Then the horn wailed for what seemed like an entire minute and girls came sprinting from all directions of the grounds.

Suddenly our slow but steady flow of portrait subjects turned into a mad rush, a blur of white dresses, red ties and backpacks piling on.

The Grace Children's Home bus, "a decades-old hunk of metal on wheels" | Benjamin Weatherston

The Grace Children’s Home bus, “a decades-old hunk of metal on wheels” | Benjamin Weatherston

Laughing and giddy, we fought our way through the aisle looking for our quick exit. The girls called to the driver and pointed in the direction of the dormitories. One of the youngest girls was not on the bus. The driver shook his head, put the bus in gear and very slowly began rolling down the drive that led to the gate. As he did this, sure enough, the bright-eyed beauty came running with her left shoestrings flapping and maroon-colored tie flying like a flag from her hand. Her ear-to-ear grin was proof that she understood the bus driver was never going to leave her behind. Still, she ran like the wind, jumped aboard and the bus sped off, kicking up a cloud of red dust behind it. Our own excitement and laughter carried on long after the bus vanished from sight.

Small miracles like this occur daily at the magical little place called Grace. It is here, this tiny paradise on the shores of the Bengal Bay on the island of Sri Lanka, a mere speck on a map in the Indian Ocean, where I received a glimpse of the world’s true potential for compassion, love and beauty and where I spent nearly a week contemplating life and its challenges for the girls and young women who rely on this “Special” bus for their education — their future.

The author, Cathy Franklin, is a partner at Absolute Title Inc., in Ann Arbor, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor West, vice president of the West Washtenaw Business Association and is training to become a certified yoga instructor. Her 19 year-old-son, Jacob, a student at Washtenaw Community College, made the trip to Sri Lanka with her.

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