Tuesday, 14 August 2012

our adventures in Batticoloa

Back in Kandy we were invited by the Kiwi volunteer Neil to join him & his bro visiting him from NZ to go with them to the Pinniwala Elephant Orphanage. Shortly after we arrived the elephants of all ages & sizes walked across the main street down to the river & we watched them enjoying the water & interacting with each other. Our driver & guide facilitated our getting up close to some of the elephants & I was so thrilled to feed bananas to an elephant whose trunk was soft & dextrous in taking the fruit. Standing next to the gentle giant was wonderful. We went to another part of the river to ride elephants – it was a bit daunting at first to be astride the massive back of Nona & to stay on while she walked but after a while we adjusted to her gait & learned to shift our weight from side to side as she walked. Down in the river Nona gave us a shower with water from her trunk plus a fair amount of river pebbles! It was a fantastic day & my new favourite animal is the elephant!!

The next day Amy & I conducted training with the staff from the Kandy centres about 20 people in all. Many of the children have experienced abuse that go to the centres and we were asked to run a session to help staff to respond to children who disclose abuse & to reinforce the importance of building the resilience of children. We were really pleased with the participation of the staff & we’ve subsequently spent time in the centres to offer further support & coaching for staff dealing with specific children.

Over the next couple of days we developed & prepared for the 4 day training program for new staff in the 5 centres in villages outside of Batticoloa, a major city on the east coast.  We headed off to Batti (as it is known) on Sunday & the journey took us over the Mahagangana mountain range with spectacular views across to the coast. The road has 18 tight curves on the way down - I reckon the Top Gear boys would love it! We stopped at a roadside stall to have king coconuts & fruit – most stalls are attempts by people to make a little extra money from the produce they grow in their gardens. I had to use the toilet & the woman took us around the back of the home where the cooking fire was outside as well as the squat toilet which is flushed with water from their well. We were trying to work out the system with the water for the toilet but they might have been thinking we were commenting about the conditions of their home as the oldest daughter told me ‘We are poor.’ Their simple lives require much toil; they frequently do not have enough nutritious food to eat let alone clothes to wear. We murmured our thanks humbled by our brief contact with them.

We passed a Hindu procession as we entered Batti which seemed to have a number of frenzied dancers leading a group of about 50 people. Pastor Dilshan told us it was still a feature of many Hindu processions for a man to submit himself to having a large hook inserted into his back & being suspended from a frame of poles during the procession. He said there is an underground sect of Buddhist Hindus who still perform human sacrifices; & that the Hindu practice of Kali, or revenge killing, is still practiced. I found it deeply disturbing. On the other extreme we passed a large church in Batti that had a HUGE television screen on the outside of the church showing the service inside the church to the many people watching outside. This is a multi-faith community! 

The next morning we met the trainees who have been selected as young community leaders to work with the children from each of the 5 villages where the after school centres will operate. The trainees were mostly young women who had recently finished their O & A-level studies with 2 older trainees, a young man & woman both in their mid-twenties with a little more work experience. The Salvation Army had been responsible for mobile health clinics to the villages after the war ended and as with many NGOs (non-government organisations) their post war work had finished at the end of July. The Salvos had approached Child Action Lanka (CAL) to consider taking on work with the communities and they had identified the 11 community leaders for CAL to consider using for the work. The 3 day training was therefore an opportunity for potential employees to get to know the organisation & the nature of the work they would be doing; and for CAL as the employer to assess the trainees & to offer employment if they were suitable.   

The first day of training went very well. Pastor Dilshan as one of the directors of CAL started with an inspiring vision & mission session about the work of CAL then Henri, a drama therapist lecturer, followed with an experiential drama therapy session focussing on working together & communication. After lunch Amy & I facilitated the workshopping session where we divided into 2 groups to involve the trainees in a discussion about the need of the communities. The training was supported by Prince & Reji who translated for each of us; however they were far more than translators because Prince brought his experience as the supervisor of one of the Kandy centres offering after school support to 6-12 year old children and Reji will be the manager of the Batti staff.

The weather in Batti was hot & very humid; and the training room at the Batti YMCA where we were staying was not air conditioned so we were all very sweaty & sticky by the end of the afternoon! We went to the local beach for a swim where the sweat of the day was washed away notwithstanding that we were required to wear clothes over our bathers so as not to offend locals with the nudity of our bathers.  The waves were quite strong at times & I realised too late I should have taken off my prescription sunglasses as a bigger wave dumped all of us & my sunglasses were gone! I could see how Batti would have been very vulnerable to the tsunami in 2004; in fact a huge concrete pergola structure has been left on the foreshore of the local beach as a reminder of the immense power of the water that had deposited it there.

Henri started the second day of training with another experiential session focussing on the stages of child development & the nature of children’s play at each stage; Reji & I ran the next workshopping session focussing on identifying the trainees’ skills, talents & experience to create a skills inventory and Amy & I ran an active listening session at the end of the day. It was a good day overall although I thought I was going to melt in the afternoon session with rivers of perspiration coursing down my back!! We went to Pasikuda beach which is often referred to as ‘paradise bay’. The sea was as calm as the local beach had been rough yesterday and I offered to teach Prince & Reji some swimming basics to feel more comfortable in the water. I was so proud of Reji who bravely followed my coaching & was rewarded after about half an hour by being able to float on his back (my favourite thing) & gaze up at the beautiful sky where the setting sun was breathtaking.  In Sri Lanka culture (as  in Aboriginal culture) older women are known as aunties & I have found throughout my stay that people have responded to me as a trusted aunty – this fits really well for me because the aunty role has been one of the roles in my life that I’ve loved the most.

On the third morning I joined Pastor Dilshan, Amy & Henri for a walk on the beach; it was a beautiful morning stroll while the air was still fresh & not too warm. We watched the fishermen bring up the boats in time to the chants & rhythm of a man at the prow of each boat; we also watched several men hauling in large nets from the sea. It was a charming picture & afterwards we went to the local market to buy fruit which was busy & colourful. The main focus for the third day of training was working on the activities for the fun day tomorrow in one of the villages for 60 children. It was an excellent learning experience for Reji & his team of trainees who took the framework I presented & developed their own program using activities they know. We ended the training very tired but very pleased with how well the trainees had responded to all the input over the past 3 days. Henri explained to me that the Sri Lankan education system is mostly didactic teaching & rote learning where students are discouraged from thinking for themselves. It had therefore been quite a stretch for the trainees to be participating in the discussion based workshops and the drama therapy style teaching sessions but they had all risen to the challenge enthusiastically!

We headed down to the beach again & built a small cooking fire using small pieces of wood we had bought from the roadside as well as dried out palm leaves from trees on the beach. Dilshan cooked a thick piece of tuna steak to perfection on the blade of his small axe over the coals – it was delicious! Reji had also bought 2 roast chickens – Amy was ecstatic – the chicken was as good as we would have in Aust & she had never had a beach campfire before! We toasted marshmallows for dessert & had a singalong around the campfire with Reji proving to be an excellent singer of reggae type songs. It was a great night!

The next day we picked up the trainees en route to the school ground where the fun day was to be held & they sat in the back of the ute chattering away. When we arrived there were about 30 kids there & they were dispatched to go spread the word & by our revised starting time of 10am there were 90 kids! The school consisted of 2 large classrooms which have open walls with a couple of smaller office rooms, pink & blue toilet blocks & a separate kitchen where a couple of women prepared lunch for everyone. The buildings were in an L-shape around the school yard. The school like most of the buildings in the village had been built by NGOs but like most buildings they were poorly finished.  We had learned from the trainees that all but one of the villages were without electricity, and all villages relied on taking water from wells or from a hand pump. Most of the children weren’t wearing any kind of footwear (the norm is for people to wear thongs or slippers as they are known here) & this means they frequently cut their feet. The villages are very poor & alcohol is a big problem among men (women don’t drink alcohol) so families are surviving on whatever meagre income the mothers can make.

The fun day started with our introduction to the community as special guests. We were given beautiful fragrant flower leis & we were each asked to light a wick on a lamp which is part of the Hindu tradition on such occasions. Then the trainees got the program underway organising the whole group to sit outside the classrooms in the shade while they prepared the activities. They brought out a few children at a time to do each activity; at most 2 activities were running at a time so most of the kids were onlookers. We made minimal suggestions to Reji & the trainees & we were delighted with how everyone managed the event. After the break some of the trainees ran the local game of Elle which is similar to baseball while Amy headed up a team of face painters using paints we had brought from Oz. Getting through 90 kids (& quite a few adults too) was a big undertaking! There was a prize giving ceremony for first, second & third placegetters as well as lollies for every child. After the children had gone Dilshan presented each trainee with a certificate & offered them all positions with CAL!

We all piled into the ute, dropping the trainees at the intersections to their villages & saying our final farewells. After a quick shower back at the YMCA we set off for the 5 hour journey back to Kandy stopping briefly at a beautiful lake – while there we were visited by all the people living on the lake for seasonal fishing. They told us local wild elephants go to the lake around 6pm every day unfortunately we couldn’t wait!

Back in Kandy Amy has been making preparations to share her birthday tomorrow with 18 girls who live in the Haven Girls Home – there will be party games, face painting & an ice cream birthday cake! We’ll be spending the morning relaxing by the pool at one of the hotels & having drinks at The Royal (our local) in the evening. It should be a great day! We head to Colombo on Friday & I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Debra who is joining us for the last 2 weeks of our time in Sri Lanka. We’ve planned an awesome itinerary and I’m looking forward to playing tourist!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Halfway now!

We’re halfway through our time here in Sri Lanka & enjoying a few days at Uppaveli a beautiful beach 4 km north of Trincomalee on the east coast of Sri Lanka. It’s a welcome change after our week in Kilinochchi where there was nothing to do outside of our work at the centre!

Amy Ramesh & I prepared the storeroom next to the centre building to become a clinic – Ramesh cleared up outside & hung a curtain between the clinic room & the gear stored there. He borrowed several chairs from local families & moved a couple of tables (one of which was actually an ironing table) from the classroom so there was a table to lay out medical supplies & a table for Amy to write up her patient notes. During the first health clinic a routine of weighing, measuring height, taking blood pressure, respiration & pulse was quickly established; and of giving multivitamins & worm tablets. Whole families came in as well as concerned mums bringing in children & grandmothers for a check-up. Whilst some families had paid to see a doctor it became clear that doctors here do not seem to be taking the time to find out what is wrong or accessing diagnostic procedures like x-rays & endoscopies to properly diagnose or follow up chronic conditions. Ramesh told us that a basic check-up like Amy was providing would cost 1,000 rupees (A$10) while a blood pressure check alone would cost 500 rupees; it doesn’t sound like much but most families are earning less than 20,000 rupees per month.

Several people came in with subcutaneous lumps on their legs & as we questioned them about it we discovered that everyone in Kili had lived in a camp the Sinhala Army forced them to go to for two years during the final stages of the war. Apparently the conditions were very hard & very unhygienic. We felt bad that we hadn’t known anything about it – we’re so ignorant in Aust about the hardships of people in other countries.  After the clinic I googled information about the camps & learnt that the camp referred to as Manik Farm was a heavily guarded facility in Vavuniya in the northern district holding 280,000 people at the peak of the civilian detention policy.

After the first clinic Amy and Ramesh worked together and I spent time with the kids. Amy said the clinics were a mix of the mundane – chest infections, rashes, cleaning up wounds & doing dressings - and the extraordinary. Amy talked to several families who had lost a father or a brother to exploding ordinance; at least 2 of the families would benefit from support to grieve and one family were showing signs of post trauma (panic attacks, sleeplessness, grief) because a recent diagnosis of lung cancer for the father has been a trigger to release emotions lying just below the surface. It’s been good to pray together to ask God to provide for specific needs for the families (Ramesh is also a Christian).

Our days in Kili developed a routine of hotel to centre to hotel to centre to hotel etc etc and we both experienced something akin to cabin fever! Sometimes we went to the supermarket or the market or to a different place around the corner for more western style food and we were always the centre of attention. There are very few western people in Kili & even fewer women so we were quite a diversion in the daily grind of life in a city focussed on reconstruction. We were so thankful that we were able to secure a room at the Thanu Rest with its good size room & bathroom, a/c, TV and with a manager, Shan, who had good English – most of the people in Kili are only now starting to learn English, there was no call for it during 30 years of war.

The weather in the north region is dry & hot similar to a hot Aussie summer when it stays warm overnight & is hot by 7am. The best & coolest part of the day is from about 5pm until nightfall at 7pm. There was a breeze most days & it was quite windy at times which isn’t great when you’re walking down a dusty road. We tried to walk to the centre in the mornings & back from the centres in the evenings about a 20 minute walk each way.  We went back to the hotel from 12-3pm during the hottest part of the day using the services of the tuk tuk driver Kutti who lives with his family just down the lane from the centre for those trips.

It was frustrating at times for me not to be able to offer post trauma counselling support to the children & families who needed it however to start & not to be able to finish would be irresponsible.  In any case Ramesh was the only translator & he was fully occupied supporting Amy with the health clinics. Instead I supported Ramesh & Amy with the health clinics & we made notes about the people who needed counselling support. While I ran activities with the kids I also noted the signs of children acting out especially the boys.

The kids were very responsive to every activity – Tamil kids do not have the behaviour management issues of the Sinhala street kids in Kandy - and they’re very keen to learn. Ramesh runs computing, Sinhala & English classes after school during term times & had planned ‘exams’ to finish off the term’s work – he works really hard to prepare for each term & each day’s classes & had prepared the tests himself as well as the certificates that each kid receives. I introduced circle games to practice using English words as well as silly fun games like thumb war & Canadian rock paper scissors! We bought a box of paper for the centre & the kids really enjoyed drawing using images & stencils we had brought with us and I reinforced the English words for what they had drawn. Some of the older kids are very good at drawing & Ramesh brought out pastels which they used beautifully, many creating their own designs. They heard me humming & asked me to sing and with  little encouragement the girls were dancing Sri Lankan traditional dances & singing the songs that accompany them – I took several videos! I’m convinced that art, music & drama therapies will work very well here to help kids.

We arranged a day excursion with a driver in a van to a lagoon north west of Kili that would include visits to various sites of interest from the war with the help of Shan who even organised a picnic lunch for us to take. Ramesh was our special guest & he was very excited about visiting the war sites but also because he said he hadn’t had a day off since starting work at the centre 5 months ago.

As we left Kili behind we started to realise how far it has developed in comparison to outlying areas where there is still house after house with bullets holes. Our first stop was at the hideout of the LTTE leader which was in the jungle. His lair was in the centre of a 10 acre area that had layer after layer of defences provided by 6,000 soldiers. The bunker itself looks like a normal house from the outside but had 4 levels below ground including an escape route up to the surface from the lowest level if needed. Apparently the leader had left the area when communications were cut off to his troops & he was actually found & executed elsewhere. We were accompanied by a Sinhala Army soldier who was very informative as we asked questions – the hideout was only discovered when the army undertook a slow & deadly jungle campaign. It was disturbing to be told that all 6,000 Tiger troops were executed & buried in a mass grave instead of being taken prisoner. It seems that after 30 years of war & many broken peace treaties the Sinhala Govt decided to eradicate the problem permanently.

We travelled on to a beach where a Jordanian cargo ship was stuck in the middle of an otherwise quite lovely beach. The Farah 3 had been pirated by the Sea Tigers & used during the war then left as a rusting hulk on the beach. The route to & from the beach was probably the most harrowing experience of the day as we passed through the debris of a sizeable town that had been absolutely destroyed during the war. It had not been cleaned up in any way aside from making the road safe from mines. We realised this must have been the way Kilinochchi was left at the end of the war & how the families we had come to know at the centre would have returned home after 2 years in camp to a decimated city that then has taken years to rebuild.

The most delightful thing about our visit to the beach however was Ramesh’s declaration that he had never been to a beach! I promptly introduced him to the Aussie custom of splashing! It was great to feel the sand & sea water on our feet! Ramesh told us that whenever he goes to a beach in the future he will remember that we were with him the first time he went – he’s such a sweetie!

By now Amy & I had had our fill of death & war relics so we asked if we could go to the lagoon to have lunch – there followed classic Sri Lankan misunderstanding because despite spending a lot of time with Shan organising the trip the driver knew nothing about lunch at the lagoon! When we rang Shan he told us we were supposed to have our lunch at the hideout of the LTTE leader – and this caused Amy & I great amusement as we would not have chosen a war site with 6,000 people buried nearby as our ideal picnic spot!!

Fast forward to our break in Uppuveli and we’ve come here with another volunteer, Beth, who is around Amy’s age and they both really enjoy each other’s company. It has been lovely time – well all except the first night. We decided to walk to Trinco to find a restaurant for dinner & set out to walk along the beach into the city, a distance of about 4km according to the travel books. The walk started well however as we left the ‘resort’ area behind we realised we were actually walking through a local fishing village where many boats were picturesquely lined up at the end of the day. The girls were wearing tourist clothes meaning their legs & shoulders weren’t covered up & we started to hear jeers & cat calls from the local men. Then the dogs of the village came out to challenge us! One dog in particular came at me & I instinctively raised my hand to fend him off. This made it worse & it rushed at me again so that I was forced into the water! It was barking aggressively with all its teeth bared. It was truly frightening & none of the locals watching us did anything to intervene. We were between a rock & a hard place – ahead were more unfriendly villagers & dogs & I certainly didn’t want to go back into the ferocious dog’s territory again! We pressed on with more dogs barking at our heels and I spotted a more kindly looking man with a child on his lap & asked him how to get to the road to Trinco. He pointed to a lane behind him and we escaped! Suffice to say we have stayed in the resort area since!

We did a day trip yesterday to Nilveli which is another lovely beach 10km further north. We went to Pigeon Island to go snorkelling. It’s all a bit of an adventure whenever you do anything here as they are still learning about dealing with tourists. The coral area was disappointing to be honest but apparently it’s still recovering too. Nevertheless there were colourful tropical fish aplenty & it was very pleasant to find a shady spot to while away the afternoon swimming & sketching. In keeping with the sea theme for the day I had whole grilled rock fish for dinner which was the best meal I had in Sri Lanka until our last night when we went to the best resort, the Chaaya Blue, for a slap up last night feast of king prawns & a whole lobster with an Italian Pinot Grigio!! Heaven!  

Thursday, 19 July 2012

During our second week in Kandy we got to know the other volunteers better. Beth, Jamie, Laura & Sylvia are all from the UK, Daniel & Nadia are from the US, Martina is from Germany, Neil is from NZ, Lohini is from France, Kamal is a Punjabi woman from the UK. There is a volunteer meeting every fortnight on a Wednesday afternoon followed by a trip to the Royal Bar for drinks where we all found out more about each other’s lives & how we came to be volunteering for Child Action Lanka; and they’re a great source of information for our where to go, where to buy, who to ask questions.

We spent a couple of days preparing for our trip to Kikinochci (or Kili as it is referred to) by talking to Dilshan, buying medical supplies for the health clinics Amy will be running there, and gathering any resources that are written in Tamil & English to work with the children there. Dilshan is keen for us to go to support his worker Ramesh who has been working on his own since February establishing an after school centre for children aged between 6-20 years of age. Kili was the headquarters for the Tamil Tigers & was the last area to be taken by the Sinhala Govt in 2010. Dilshan tells us that every family has lost a family member in the war & everyone will have witnessed the brutalities of the war. Services of all kinds are being established & CAL is keen to see whether mobile health clinics will be taken up as there is a group of medical volunteers coming out in November. As we have developed our thinking about our trip to Kili we have decided to approach it as a trial to gather information to collate in a report about the health needs we find there. Notwithstanding this Amy has carefully purchased supplies including antibiotics, creams, eye drops, bandages etc for wounds, vitamin C & multi vitamins, worming medication as well as diagnostic tools like stethoscope, blood pressure machine, penlight for eye exams & dental mirror so that she can gather basic health info & offer basic treatments!! I’ve been very proud of her!!

On Saturday Dilshan & Deb took the volunteers to the Victoria Golf Course which is about 45 minutes from Kandy to spend the day relaxing. It’s a stunning place circled by hills & with a range of wildlife nearby. I took the opportunity to have a full body massage which includes all the front as well as all the back here & was a little disconcerting!! It was followed by 10 minutes in a coffin shaped wooden hot box where one’s head sticks out one end & the rest of the body is inside the box. As I looked up at the ceiling I noticed several money spiders heading down towards my face!      I blew them away when they got too close & was very thankful they weren’t some of the large huntsman type spiders that have taken to turning up in our bathroom!! We all enjoyed a swim & a lovely lunch (grandma Julie had a nap by the pool too) before heading back.  

We had another volunteer get together on Sunday evening to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday in a bar called Slightly Chilled which has more fabulous views of the hills & Kandy Lake which is right in the heart of the city. The lake was made by one of the Kandyan kings, it’s a beautiful 4km walk around the lake & as you would expect the important govt offices, schools, hotels & hospitals are located on the perimeter as well as historical buildings like the Buddhist monastery & the famous temple that holds the relic of Buddha’s tooth and is the focus for Buddhist pilgrims from around the world.

Unfortunately during the week I had several occasions where I was crook because of the chilli & the oiliness of much of the food. So much as I love the food, it doesn’t love me & now I order plain rice & food without chilli!! Mind you there is still plenty of flavour with the other spices & black pepper they add to compensate for the lack of chilli!! We have gotten into the habit of applying Repel insect repellent several times a day which is pretty hard on your skin but it’s worth it if it keeps the dengue fever mosquitoes away!! There were 12,000 cases of dengue fever reported in Sri Lanka since Jan 2012 so it’s been a big problem.  

We travelled to Kilinochchi in the early morning on Tuesday leaving Kandy at 4.30am to escape the worst of the heat & the traffic. The journey took over 5 ½ hours and this was mostly because of the road works on the A9 highway which is the main roadway north from Kandy to Jaffna. When we reached the border for the north region we had to show our passports & for the first time we saw armed army personnel. Dilshan pointed out huge statues & sculptures erected by the govt since the end of the war – one was of a lotus flower emerging from a wall with a bullet embedded in it, this was at a main junction into Kili. Dilshan indicated that many people think the hostilities could start again and so other statues we passed depict the might & power of the Govt! There is a hearts & minds strategy to improve the lot of the Tamil population to win them over & we saw a massive amount of construction work of health centres, economic development centres, new buildings of all kinds; we also saw army personnel making roadside areas safe by taking out mines planted by the Tigers.

We had been told it would be dusty & hot in the north & it reminded me of central Aust with the fine red dust that gets into everything. The road surface has so many pot holes you are constantly being thrown about. We went straight to the after school centre which is on an acre of virtually uncleared land & has a main building with 3 rooms plus a separate storeroom & outhouse. One room is the classroom, one is Ramesh’s bedroom & the third is the kitchen. After Dilshan left Ramesh showed us around & the before & after photos he plans to put into an album. There are very basic furnishings & Amy & I were keen to buy a cupboard to store the few precious resources including the medical supplies so they aren’t ruined by dirt & dust. So we set off together in a tuk tuk to buy water & snacks from the supermarket, fruit from the market & we checked out a couple of furniture places for cupboards. I tried my bartering skills – Dave would have been proud of me – and we walked away having established a best price of 6800 rupees (about A$65) but I think I can get it down more!! It was a bone jarring & sweaty journey in the hottest part of the day with Amy commenting she thought she would have to start wearing her sports bra!!

When we got back to the hotel we chatted to a Briton who comes to Kili regularly with his work with a large corporation who are constructing 2 garment factories that will directly employ 2,500 people and will create additional employment in the community. He told us he had been coming to Kili since Nov 2011 and has been amazed at how quickly business & services have been established in the past 6 mths – apparently he had survived on Farley Rusks & Milo for the first few months he came to Kili!! It’s clear that the NGOs & the UN have been responsible for constructing most of the residential & business buildings in Kili since the end of the war, including the building that the centre is in. Yet the signs of the war are all around – a striking example was the remains of the huge water tower in the main street that was destroyed during hostilities. The NGOs & the UN are moving out now & there is still so much to be done. There’s so much to take in but there was a moment when Amy wisecracked that we were in Moustacheville – sure enough when I looked closely most of the men are sporting a Bert Reynolds style moustache from the seventies! We cracked up!! 

The next day we met Ramesh for breakfast & he told us more about himself; I would like to say how much we respect & admire this remarkable 23 year old Tamil man. He told us he hadn’t studied hard at school & failed his A level exams then for the following year he ‘roamed about’ with his mates. However in 2010 he had the opportunity to do 2 years study with Tea Vision an organisation set up to provide vocational training to develop young people from the tea plantation areas. Ramesh said he met Mr Tim a Briton who motivated him so much that during the next 2 years he studied teaching, business, computing and on several occasions he received outstanding results. Subsequently he was offered an internship but he injured himself for 3 months. When he was able to work again Mr Tim introduced him to DIlshan at Child Action Lanka & he moved away from his family to set up the centre at Kili. Ramesh is an extremely intelligent & resourceful young man – he studied English & Sinhala in the past year so that he is now proficient in both, he taught himself how to fix his computer so that now he knows all the parts & what they do, he’s learnt basic electrical wiring from his neighbour so he can do basic wiring for the centre, he’s painted his bike so that it looks like a new one using basic panel beating & painting skills he also learned with Tea Vision (bikes are the main form of transport for most Kilis which makes it a much quieter place without constant car horn blasts!), he created a basic washroom using a 40 gallon drum encased by hessian walls on 3 sides & he bricked & plastered the wall for a well on the property which is the only source of water for everything but drinking (Ramesh has to go to another nearby well for drinking water). It’s an inspiring story & now he is inspiring the 40 or so young people that he works with at the centre!!

In addition to running the health clinics our objective in going to Kili is to provide support to Ramesh who is understandably feeling very isolated & overwhelmed. Ramesh runs the centre 6 days a week – the 6-9 year olds go on Monday & Tuesday, the 10-14 year olds go on Wed & Thursday and the 15-20 year olds go on Friday & Saturday from 3-5pm. He supports their learning in computer, English & Sinhala languages. Then they play cricket or the girls skip rope until around 6pm when they head home. He has run 2 terms to date & he appreciated our thoughts about building on the English words & grammar he has already taught, and the resources we took with us from Oz. I spent an hour or so with him talking about tasks & tips for managers especially personal & workload management & the importance of engaging the parents & local community in owning & supporting the success of the centre. Poor lad has been doing it all himself & we talked about working bees to do things like clear the land & plant mango, banana & coconut trees for income generation among other things.

 We drafted an information letter for parents about the health clinics for Ramesh to translate into Tamil & we worked out with him when we would be offering health clinics over the next 5 days.  When we returned to the centre we were greeted by 14 boys!  We ran a few circle rounds to practice English with ‘My name is _, what’s your name? and adding ‘and how old are you?’ then while Ramesh did some revision with them for their exam on the weekend we came up with a session plan to start to engage the kids in talking about health issues. I introduced hokey pokey at the start & finish of the session to reinforce parts of the body and they had a lot of fun with it!! Amy introduced words like cold, sick, sore, hot, shaky, weak, cough to describe ailments and then we passed around a ball & asked them to tell a story when we they had the ball about an illness or injury they have had. There were the usual stories of falls & sports injuries but many told us about recurring fevers, rotten teeth, breathing difficulties, weakness & black outs – and they have not been able to see a doctor. There was one boy who had shrapnel in his legs from the war which still causes him pain and another boy with a full leg prosthesis which looked like it needed to be resized. We explained about what Amy would be doing at the health clinics & when we asked the boys if they thought the health clinic was a good idea there was a resounding yes!

The first clinic is tomorrow, stayed tuned!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Week one!

It’s now just over a week since we have been here & so I would suggest you make a cup of tea before you read my first blog!! It has been easy & cheap to organise phone & a dongle for Amy’s laptop (why is it so expensive in Oz??) but there has not been a lot of free time! Hope you enjoy reading my impressions of our time here so far. It would be great to hear from you if you have the time to send us a quick message!

Our travel to Sri Lanka was uneventful & we arrived at Colombo airport just before midnight on Monday night. The taxi driver my friend Charlotte had organised to pick us up was a very welcome sight & as we made the 30 minute drive to Colombo we began absorbing some of the new sights & sounds like Buddhas with neon lights around their heads like a halo & wayward drivers taking up 2 lanes & tooting each other constantly – the driver joked that some Sri Lankan drivers think the car won’t drive unless they use the horn!

The next day Charlotte showed us around Colombo including visits to the beach, the markets, her favourite cafes & shops. I had my first Sri Lankan curry for lunch – this was rice with 3 kinds of veg curry for 250 rupees (or A$2) and I was really pleased that it wasn’t too hot – phew I’m not doomed to a diet of plain rice for 2 mths!! The afternoon heat was rather oppressive & most places are not air conditioned.  It was a Poya Day which is a Buddhist public holiday every month at the full moon and is observed by going to the temple & spending the day in meditation & abstinence so no alcohol is served. We passed a long procession of dancers & drummers including a small elephant. In the evening we went out for dinner with Charlotte & her husband Farrukh to a renovated building from colonial times – although 3 times the cost for a meal it wasn’t as good as the simple food at lunchtime but the setting was amazing & very evocative of past times.

On Wednesday Charlotte drove us to Kandy which is only 120km away but takes over 3 hours to travel because of the traffic! It gave us an opportunity for a long natter as Charlotte skilfully dodged cars, trucks & 3 wheeler tuk tuks coming at us in all directions and we passed by stalls selling all kinds of exotic fruit and - plastic inflatable toys – a strange mix! We stopped at a roadside cafĂ© to have a cup of tea – the Sri Lankans like sweet tea so if one orders tea with milk & sugar it is likely to have several heaped teaspoons of sugar in it so for most westerners milk tea which is made with carnation milk will be sweet enough. I have been enjoying plain tea & plan to work my way through the many types of tea that are available from the many regions of Sri Lanka!

When we arrived at Kandy our introduction to the Child Action Lanka centres was brief which was probably a good thing as it was a little overwhelming! The main building houses the CAL office, centre 4 for babies, centre 2 for 7-12 year olds & a room where church is held on Sunday with each centre on a different floor accessed by flights of stairs. Centre 1, the pre-school, is a short walk away in the basement of the Baptist church; and centre 3 for 13-18 yr olds is in the hall of another church also a short walk away.

At the end of the day we moved into the Annexe which is self-contained accommodation for volunteers at the rear of the home of Aunty Manel & Uncle David who are the parents of Dilshan, the pastor of the church and one of the 3 directors, with his wife Deb & Charlotte, of Child Action Lanka.  Our adventures weren’t over yet though! We decided to go food shopping & Charlotte dropped us at the local Food City supermarket & we took our first tuk tuk ride back to the annexe – except that we hadn’t taken notice of the way, it was dark & the driver drove us up & down many winding unfamiliar roads. We rang Deb & Dilshan who spoke to the driver and finally after half an hour we arrived! It was definitely time for a long G&T!!   

We walked into Kandy on Thursday morning with Sylvia one of the other volunteers. It’s a 45 minute hilly walk & we were all glowing by the time we reach the office! Although Kandy feels packed with people & vehicles to the newcomer in reality it consists of a grid of about 6 main streets! Pedestrians take their chances against road traffic & soon you get the hang of timing the crossing of roads with the mass of people waiting with you on the curb. If you’re lucky there’s a policeman directing people as well as vehicle traffic!

We had our orientation meeting with Deb who oversees the day to day running of the centres and as we talked Deb identified 3 projects to be involved with while we are here. The first will be to travel to the far north to Kilinochchi & for Amy to run a basic health clinic to include wound management, eye, ear & mouth care & so on. I’ll go with her to offer support & to provide some basic health information to parents. It’s pretty remote & people from the region have had a rough time during the war. I just hope I don’t melt as it’s the hottest part of Sri Lanka! Thankfully Kandy is much more moderate in temperature than Colombo! Apparently there are wonderful beaches on the east coast so we may well stop for a couple of days for some R&R afterwards.

Deb is also planning a training trip to Batticaloa on the east coast in August. They are opening new centres there & she has invited us to contribute to the training of new staff. This is an area that was also heavily affected by the war & CAL has been invited by the authorities to set up centres there. The other project is sharing my experience from Salvo days with Deb, Charlotte & Dilshan about managing a growing number of dispersed centres & staff, especially resourcing centre managers to deal with the many demands they face. We’re delighted that our skills & experience can be used!    

Most of the days since then we have spent at the baby centre & the pre-school. Mrs Rosyro runs the baby centre, she is in her late 50s, and she has 2 staff - Rani who is also in her 50s and Kumali who used to be on the street & now works for CAL. Mrs R has her hands full at the moment with 3 babies who need 2 hourly feeds & an average of 8 toddlers to whom they provide breakfast, lunch, morning & afternoon snacks as well as wash their clothes and tend to any minor ailments they may have! For example one of the boys has lots of flea bites on his legs & Kamali rubs them with antiseptic cream so they don’t get infected. She has also found ticks on his back & arms which she skilfully removes with tweezers.

Mrs R has a list of activities to do with the toddlers but some activities are a lot of extra work & to be honest she tends to ask the volunteers to run them. Subsequently I have run the sand play & water play activities on different days on the landing outside the room & I use the full range of my Sinhala words – oh (yes), ne (no), appah (don’t), athie (enough), hari (ok), istootea (thank you), sharing (baydaganda), take turns (oyata pasey), slowly (hemming), don’t fight (randu venda appah) – over & over again. I try to add a few more words every day & my accent & clumsy attempts have caused some amusement! The children’s attention span is about 20-30 minutes before they start getting rough & rowdy however Amy & I were very encouraged yesterday as we helped with circle time, singing, using a tunnel, reading books, naming parts of our body & puzzles. There are blocks, toys & cycles that the children can play with as well as a soft area with lots of pillows where they sleep after lunch. Mrs R wanted a feeding chart to keep track of the baby’s feeds so I went up to the office to type up a feeding chart, laminated it & bought a whiteboard pen so they can wipe it clean every day. Mrs R was delighted with our efforts & gave us cheek kisses as we left for the day!!

At the pre-school the children are more socialised in undertaking the activities & structure for the day. They are given a shower & change into CAL uniforms when they arrive and also receive meals & snacks during the day. The centre manager Daphne is a switched on lady and she has 2 staff Ru & Aisha with an average of 15 children each day. The preschool is located in a basement & so twice a week they take the children to have free play in the enclosed yard of a nearby church. Amy & I accompanied Ru & Aisha there on Friday afternoon, they walk them over in a line of children holding hands in pairs but it was quite terrifying dodging people, stalls & traffic!

One of the volunteers who is training as a pre-school teacher in the UK organised to paint the pre-school on Friday & Saturday so Amy & I helped. It was a big job! Late on Friday afternoon a group of about 20 senior high school students from the rugby team came down to help. It was hilarious listening to them paying each other out in Sinhala just as 18 year olds would back home! They were messy but with their help we completed the first coat of paint on all the walls. Tired & a bit high from the oil paint that had loads of thinner added to it we went with the other volunteers to the Royal for a beer then to an Indian restaurant for dinner! We went back on Saturday to put the second coat on & finish the colourful murals on the ceilings.

On Sunday we went to church at the CAL centre, there were about 50 people there. Deb who runs the centre during the week was the worship leader using Sinhala & English words, we even knew a couple of the songs! There was a visiting British pastor & he gave a good message about the Father’s love & Dilshan skilfully interpreted it for the congregation. We went back to the annexe & had a lazy afternoon doing washing & ringing people back home; & we both had an afternoon nap!

We had been expecting monsoonal weather but aside from the odd light shower it has been dry. On Monday however it rained heavily all day – of course we had hung out several loads of washing on Sunday!! Our host Manel made us hoppers for dinner – this is made using a batter of rice flour & coconut milk. A special small wok is used for cooking & an egg hopper has an egg cooked sunny side up in it! She had made a paste of onion, chilli & lime juice which was delicious on the hoppers with fresh tomato & coriander! As she left the annexe she spotted a porcupine & went into the house to get her husband so he could shoot it!! We asked her why she would shoot it & she said it had been digging up her yams! We also got the impression from David that they would slaughter it & eat it! We felt sorry for the porcupine & felt quite pleased when they didn’t have batteries for their torch so David couldn’t see to take a shot! It scurried away into the drain & made its getaway during the night!