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!!


  1. It sounds like your first few weeks have been productive Jules. Your writing evokes a feeling that we are sharing the experience, if from a great distance, with you. Thank you. Cheers Patti

    1. It's lovely to hear from you Patti! Please give my love to everyone in Grace Notes!!