Thursday, November 16, 2006

My visit to Sri Lanka,
January 2006-March 2006

In January this year, I travelled to Sri Lanka as a HelpLanka volunteer. I spent two months coaching sports, teaching English, donating gifts to children in orphanages and also working with children who had been made homeless by the tsunami in December 2004. My two months spent in Sri Lanka were both enjoyable and rewarding whilst at times being very moving.
I visited Sri Lanka with only a limited knowledge of the country, its culture and traditions. When it became time to leave however, I had grown to feel at home in this place of vibrant colours, exotic foods and cricket-loving people.

I spent most of my time in Moratuwa, a busy suburb, south of the capital Colombo. My main role for HelpLanka was as a sports coach, and this took me into a number of local schools where I worked with children from as young as 3 up to 19 year olds. The devastating impact of the tsunami, that occurred 13 months before my visit, had had a massive effect, leaving many homeless and large numbers without possessions and without hope for the future.
Through my coaching sessions, I tried to create activities that would provide enjoyment and also improve the children’s confidence and self-esteem. During these sessions the children were able to use skills that they would otherwise be unable to practise in a normal classroom environment, such as teamwork and leadership. The language barrier was easily overcome as the children were enthusiastic and extremely co-operative at the mere sight of a cricket ball!! I was also lucky enough to have many more experiences during my stay including teaching English to a group of 10 year olds and also visiting an orphanage in Moratuwa.

These experiences enabled to me to build up a picture of the destruction caused by the tsunami, and as a result I was able to provide feedback highlighting the best use for some of the donations received by HelpLanka. Hopefully by doing this, the areas that were identified as in needing most aid, will be the first to benefit from the money raised by HelpLanka and also the services provided by Serve. By working with HelpLanka and also people in Sri Lanka I was able to build up information on each school that I visited, which will hopefully be of use in the future when money and other forms of aid are distributed out amongst all of the HelpLanka projects.
My two months in Sri Lanka seemed to fly by, and before I knew, it was time to come home. During my stay, I ate Sri Lankan food, travelled by tri-shaw, went on safari in search of leopards and elephants and joined in traditional festivals! I stayed with a Sri Lankan family which enabled me make friends straight away and have local knowledge whenever I needed it! The people I met were very friendly and always grateful for the help and support that was being given to them.

Every day the terrible effects of the tsunami were there for me to see. Whether it was the shortage of equipment, the lack of anywhere to play, the fact that most children could not afford uniforms or the many stories told of children who had lost homes and family members. It is hard to leave knowing that there is so much left to do, but only through many small contributions, and the work of HelpLanka, will more children receive the help they need to firstly survive and then to build a better future for themselves.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rachel’s Diary Helplanka Programme, Moratuwa 19.08.06-20.09.06

Tuesday 29.08.06

Was greeted at the airport by Ruwantha from the SERVE Centre then had a comfortable trip to the Fernando’s (my host family) in Moratuwa. In the evening I was treated to dinner by Sanjeewa (SERVE Executive Director) and his wife for a lovely meal at the Mount Grill restaurant. This was my 1st experience of Sri Lankan food – particularly liked the egg hoppers.

Wednesday 30.08.06

After registering at the British Consulate in Colombo, I met the staff and children at the Moratuwa SERVE Centre. The kids were very shy (but that changed after about 15 minutes). They stared at me and giggled as if I were an alien, at 1st I through this was rude but think it was more of a curiosity thing (soon got used to adults on the streets staring at me too). I practiced some basic English phrases with a smaller group and they taught me carom (embarrassing being so badly beaten by 5 year olds! I was rubbish.) They wanted me to do relay races with them (before that day I thought I was relatively fit but with a combination of 30 degree heat and approx 4- highly energetic kids, I was exhausted.)

Thursday 31.08.06

As the schools hadn’t returned after the school holidays I had the morning free (which I used to prepare some dance and English classes). In the afternoon I went by train to the Angulana SERVE Centre – there were less children here and it wasn’t as well equipped. The level of English was lower too so I kept it very simple, using the blackboard to teach basic body parts etc.

Friday 01.09.06

I met Mrs. Peiris at her home to discuss the itinerary for the morning sessions (as it was agreed that I’d divide my time between Mother Theresa Orphanage, Egoda Uyana School and St. James Centre in the mornings and go to the SERVE Centre for the afternoons.). Mrs. Peiris took me to the Mother Theresa Orphanage in Rawatawatte Moratuwa where I met the lovely nuns. They explained that most of the children had moved to other orphanages temporarily while they were renovating. However it was ok for me to stay and play with the few remaining girls and boys who were mainly physically or mentally disabled as they didn’t want them unsettled. I was prepared to be saddened by the sight of the orphans but was rather embarrassed when I fainted there! I think it was a mixture of the heat and being overwhelmed by some of the sad stories I heard. But they looked after me and I said I’d be stronger when I returned the following week. In the evening I went off in a private car for a weekend in the Hill Country with 2 staff members from SERVE (they were going on a conference so it made sense to share the vehicle, it was good to have company too). I stayed in a friendly place in Kandy called The Sharon Inn.

Saturday 02.09.06

I went to see the elephants bathing at the Pinnewala elephant orphanage – the babies were so cute. In the afternoon I visited the Dambulla Caves (sacred Buddhist Temple in the hills).

Sunday 03.09.06

I got up early to climb Mount Sigiriya which was truly spectacular and had a really interesting guide. In the afternoon we headed back to Kandy and visited the Temple of the Tooth followed by a Kandyan dance show then sampled the local arrack at a familiarly named place called “The Pub’.

Monday 04.09.06

As I was allowed the day off for a long weekend, I treated myself to an ayurvedic massage at the Thilanka Hotel. I was then ready to face the rest of the week…

Tuesday 05.09.06

Got a tuk-tuk to St. James Centre and was greeted by Mrs. Peiris (who feels like a foster Mum!). All of the children were 4 and 5 and so sweet – Mrs. P had them all very well trained. As they were young, their English was limited but they enjoyed ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ which then became a daily ritual. In the afternoon I went to Moratuwa SERVE and taught a small group of girls some basic ballet. They seemed to find it quite tough as the style of dance was not what they were used to but they gave it a go. After the ballet, they switched the radio on and let their hair down to local music (some of the boys have got great break dancing potential).

Wednesday 06.09.06

Had an early start at Mother Theresa Orphanage and played with the small children. I read them some stories but their attention spans were short to say the least – all I could really do was give them such much needed love and affection. There were lots of new born babies there too from mothers giving birth there then sadly leaving them for adoption (often through little choice of their own). In the afternoon I ran the ballet class with a different group of girls at SERVE.

Thursday 07.09.06

POYA day (i.e. Full Moon Day - this is a public holiday as it's sacred in Buddhism). I spent the day exploring Colombo, although the shops were shut (which may have been a good thing).

Friday 08.09.06

I’d prepared some pictures for the kids to colour in (I’m no Monet but they were identifiable). Each child had a different picture to colour and learn basic nouns (e.g. dog, tree etc.) and they taught me the Sinhalese equivalents. There was a notable difference between the 4 and 5 year olds’ abilities so it would be interesting to return next year and see the improvements in the little ones. In the afternoon I took the bus to Galle where I was greeted by Nalinda (Helplanka Galle Co-ordinator) who was then a great host for the weekend.

Saturday 09.09.06

Saw the sights of Galle (lovely Dutch town with a fort) and the beach at Hikkaduwa.

Sunday 10.09.06

Visited a turtle farm in Hikkaduwa and went on a glass bottom boat to spot turtles. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t good enough to swim or surf in the sea (oh well I’ll just have to come back in high season next time). Returned to Moratuwa to the Fernandos in the evening by bus.

Monday 11.09.06

I found the way to the St. James kids’ hearts with jelly babies – an easy way to teach them colours. We then did more colouring in and I taught them the rainbow song so all in all it was a very colourful day.

In the afternoon the Angulana children made animal masks out of paper plates (to learn the English animal names).

Tuesday 12.09.06

I got caught in a downpour walking to Mother Theresa orphanage (when it rains it sure does pour). It was fascinating to watch the children interact with each other like brothers and sisters. One minute they were cuddling each other, the next they were making each other cry.

As the mask making was successful at Angulana I decided to try it with the Moratuwa children which they liked (it was quite tricky finding activities to suit the age range from 6 -15 but most joined in).

Wednesday 13.09.06

Went to Egoda Uyana School with Mrs. P to meet Mr. Fernando in preparation for Thursday. He suggested I meet the class (Grade 8 - to assess their level. I found it much easier teaching them as they could understand more. We went outside for the class as it was too noisy in the building (there are no walls between each class, just partitions). The teacher explained how it was much worse after the tsunami as some of the rooms were used for accommodation.

In the afternoon I taught the Moratuwa kids bingo which became a popular activity (probably because there were lollies involved).

Thursday 14.09.06

Arrived at Egoda Uyana school and was well looked after (with nice refreshments). I taught grade 8 again. Apparently their English knowledge is good but as their usual teacher is on maternity leave they haven’t been getting enough practice so I did what I could, in the short time period. We did several exercises, including the word end game (dog-goat-tree etc.) which was good as it tested their vocab. I pretty much had the freedom to do what I wanted with the class which I was happy with (tried to keep the balance between more serious school type exercises and games). The girls had a greater desire to learn English and asked lots of questions. In the afternoon at SERVE we played bingo again.

Friday 15.09.06

The St. James children made elephant masks and kept me entertained with Sinhalese songs. In the afternoon I did a quiz with the children then left for a weekend in Negombo and Colombo.

Saturday 16.09.06 – Sunday 17.09.06

I met a friend in Colombo for shopping and spent Sunday chilling at the lovely Mount Lavinia Hotel pool.

Monday 18.09.06

I collected 50 letters which the pupils at Egoda Uyana had written for the English school with which they’re twinned (Nonsuch Primary Ewell Surrey). We did a range of activities from bingo to telling the time to an English history and geography quiz. The teacher gave me a big thank you and the pupils sang “hokey pokey” (as they call it).

The afternoon was very hot at Angulana SERVE Centre and my energy was running low. We played ball in the small courtyard and read some interactive books. We also played the fruit game and they drew pictures of the fruits.

Tuesday 19.09.06

My last working morning was spent at St. James Centre, which I’m glad of as it was the place I enjoyed most. We played the fruit game which they found quite challenging. Mrs. P gave a lovely thank you speech and the kids came and showed their gratitude by getting down on the floor and bowing at my feet ( I felt very important!)

In the afternoon I went to the Moratuwa Serve Centre for a final game of bingo and a quiz. I had lots of goodbyes from the kids and a lovely leaving pressie from the staff. I left the building quite sad to be saying bye but happy to have had the chance to meet so many lovely people and would definitely love to return.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Test Post !!!!