Winnipeg couple feeling misled after charity money never reached child in Sri Lanka – despite many updates

Shocked to learn their World Vision sponsor never received a cent of their contributions, a Winnipeg couple is speaking out to ensure others know where they are donating. Morgan Modjeski reports.

By Morgan Modjeski

Every year, Felix and Lileena Mendis would receive updates from World Vision Canada about the child they sponsored in Sri Lanka.

Details were shared about the boy’s health, love of soccer, and involvement in youth groups.

But now the Mendis family is worried it was all a lie.

“Why would they tell us that we’re sponsoring a child, when the money doesn’t go to the child, so that’s what we’re sort of trying to figure out,” said Lileena.

“When they take money from us, they should make sure it goes to its stated purpose,” added Felix.

Their sponsor in Sri Lanka, a boy named Gethishkahn, shares a May 1 birthday with Felix’s late wife. Sponsoring him was both a way to help a child in their home country, and honour their loved one.

In 2019 after years of monthly contributions – and updates – the couple arranged through World Vision to meet the boy, but COVID-19 derailed the trip.

When they tried to make arrangements again on their own this year, World Vision did not help.

Felix and Lileena Mendis say they were misled by World Vision Canada. (Credit: CityNews/Morgan Modjeski)

That’s when they sought the help of a friend in Sri Lanka who was able to track down the boy, who is now an adult. While Felix and Lileena Mendis were happy to finally meet the boy via a video call, they were shocked when he said he had not received any of their donations.

“He was like, ‘no madam, I never got a cent.’ And I was like, ‘no it can’t be.’”

The couple reached out to World Vision Canada with their concerns, and an official with the organization confirmed the Gethishkahn never received the funds, but they instead went to his community.

Felix and Lileena Mendis say while they’re happy to help the community, they feel misled.

“We felt we were lied to, so we thought people should know what they’re really doing” said Felix. “They should call this sponsor a community.”

“A community, not a child,” added Lileena.

One of many updates sent by World Vision Canada. (Credit: CityNews/Morgan Modjeski)

Jude Fernando assisted in tracking down the boy in Sri Lanka. He says the contributions were news to the now-grown boy and his family.

“They were surprised,” said Fernando. “They said, ‘no, no, we haven’t gotten anything. No one has given anything to us.’ They were surprised to hear that.”

Fernando says the boy and his family would have greatly benefited from the financial support.

“In the end, that is a poor family,” he said. “They are living in shanties, these are very poor people. Their main job is as labourers. They’re paid as labourers, plucking tea. They’re the poorest of the poor.”

CityNews reached out to World Vision Canada, but a comment was not immediately received.

‘It catches a lot of people off guard’

Kate Bahen with Charity Intelligence Canada, which tracks and monitors charities across the country, says it’s critical people read the fine print to be certain where their donations are going.

“You can get swept away with passion sometimes and not do your homework,” she said.

“It catches a lot of people off guard.”

Bahen says large, established charities need to be more transparent and ensure children aren’t exploited in fundraising campaigns.

“Across the sector, all charities, whether they work internationally or here in Canada, need to be more frank and forthright with their advertising,” said Bahen. “I think that’s a systemic issue and I wish the Canadian Marketing Board would take a much stronger view of what charities can present to the public and make sure it’s factual.”

Felix and Lileena Mendis have now ended their relationship with World Vision Canada, contributing to a direct charity instead.

Though they still plan on helping Gethishkahn.

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