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Sri lanka in 2008


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This is from my 2008 trip to Sri Lanka where I did work to help the orphans

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Sri lanka in 2008

  1. 1. Page 1 of 6Colombo, August 22nd 2008.I climb into the front seat of the Hiace minivanand reach for the seatbelt - but there is none.“No seatbelt?” I ask Shiraz, the driver who I havehired for the trip.“No sir, you don’t need seat belt” his reply is confident“But what if we get into an accident?” I ask“Other than that, you don’t need it”It sets the tone of things to come, and so we beginthe 410 km trek to Batticaloa. Shiraz startsthe vehicle and an Arabic prayer comes on, blessingthe trip - he proudly tells me it is attached tothe ignition, and comes on each time the vehicleis started.Twelve Checkpoints, one elephant, and a day laterwe reach our destination, where I meetRaju, one of the contacts I made herefrom my last trip. He takes me to Navakuddy,to meet one of his neighbours,Rani - a woman with a wide, captivatingsmile. She lives in a tiny, one room shackwith corrugated metal and Kadjan (wovenpalm fronds) walls, and a partial roof.She has no running water and “borrows”electricity from her neighbour by runningan extension cord over. Raju tellsme her husband, a carpenter, was killed22years ago when he was caught in the crossfirebetween the Army and the rebels, as he made hisway to work. With no compensation, and noother means of income, she supported herself andher two children by becoming a day labourer/maid/cook on an income of $1.30 per day.Rani asks me to build her a washroom, sheAn elephant blocks the road near DambullaRani and grandson.Tuk-Tuks waiting for a fare in ColomboPage 2 of 6points shyly to a sand pit enclosedwith Kadjan walls and tells me thathas been their bathroom for all these years. Shetells me that several NGO’s and the Governmenthave promised her a washroom over the years,but none have come through. Rani’s son offers todig the pit for the septic tank, if we can do therest. Raju tells me a washroom costs about $750and I agree to build one for her. As we leave Inotice shecooks on amakeshift
  2. 2. wood stove,and I ask Rajuabout it. Hetells me shecannot afford abasic kerosenestove.We visit a few other homes in the area and selecttwo more that also need a washroom. One ofthem has a woman with three children, she cooksStringhoppers(abreakfaststaple) andsells them,makingabout $2 perday. Rajuand I quicklymake plansand arrangefor the constructionsuppliesto bedelivered. Iorder enough supplies to build Rani’s walls inbrick, and finish off the tiling on her roof.That afternoonIhead fortwo orphanagesin Kokkadichcholai- former rebel territory, now clearedand held by government and allianceforces. The countryside is desolate, ruraland inhospitable. We stop at a boys home(Kathiroli) and a girls home (Shakthi).While they have had some success in gettingaid, they are in short supply of books,shoes, and computers.During the Displacement, when the SriLankan army pushed through and regainedcontrol of the area, they were all evacuated.When they returned months later, theyfound both orphanages had been looted.We get a shopping list from the GirlsRani’s stoveKadjan enclosed toiletsThe Ferry to KokkadichcholaiWomen carry bricks to build the toilet.Rani’s housePage 3 of 6
  3. 3. homes and agree to meettwo of them in town tomorrowafternoon. Unfortunatelywe are notable to meet the officialsfrom the boys home.Later that evening I talkwith Kala - an Englishteacher. I want to set upregular English lessonsfor both orphanages, butKala says most teacherswill not go into the ruralareas, for fear of theirsafety.The following day Raju and I start early. We gointo town and buy Rani a stove, and check outthe construction. Her son has already dug thepit, and they are waiting for delivery of thebricks andcement. Wethen headnorth to Sittandy,and arejoined byBennett, anA me r i c a nliving in Batticaloawhoruns his ownaid agencyspecializingin micro projects,and Sasi,a Lecturer from the University, along with Murali,a student from the university- all of who are members of theSri Lankan Friendship Society -an organization of very Intellectualpeople who handle projectsthat are funded from overseas.They work on a volunteer basisand don’t charge any administrativefees. Kala - the Englishteacher is a member too. Sasitells me their purpose with SittandyBoys Home is to make itself sufficient. They want fundsfor goats and chickens,a water pump tohelp them farm, and
  4. 4. seed money to startup a sewing center.The orphanage iswell managed andmaintained, and mostof the boys are awayover the holidays,visiting their families.We then drivefurther north to meetAurunashalam, apoor bedraggled littleboy who lives withhis poverty stricken parents in a very indigentarea. He has had cataracts since birth, and haslost the sight in one eye, and is about to lose thesight in the other one. The cost of the operationis $150 but his parentscannot afford it, astheir income is about$0.50 per day. I controlmy emotions andforce a smile, yes - Itell him, I will pay forthe operation.I rush back to town tomeet the people fromthe girls orphanage andbuy books, clothing,KokkadichcholaiFerry CaptainKathiroli Boys Orphanage - KokkadichcholaiArunachalam needs surgery or he will lose his sightPage 4 of 6shoes, sundryitems, and acomputer,before makingthe treacherousjourney toKok-kadichcholai.The van getsstuck in thesoft sand atthe docks andhas to bepulled out bya tractor, thisdelays us byan hour, and we have to get special permissionfrom them to make the trek back as it will be after
  5. 5. nightfall. They agree to hold the last ferry for us.The ferry itself is a small flatbed of some leftovervehicle, with a hastily attached cabin outfittedwith two 15 hp motors. It lists dangerously as wehead out, and then the engine dies. I look aroundat the collection of bicyclists, motorcyclists, tuktuks(Three Wheelers) riders, and others - no oneseems worried thatwe are drifting withno power. It takesabout 10 minutes toget the motor goingagain, and we allsmile at each other aswe make for the farshore.The girls and trusteesat the orphanageare verygrateful, and weare plied with soft drinks, sweet tea, andcookies, but make a hasty exit as the sunsets. It is nightfall as my driver eases thevan onto the ferry, the headlights pick upfive cows, whom we share the ride with. Itis pitch black, with no lights at either port.My driver scrapes the bottom of the van ashe disembarks, and refuses to use that routeagain, leaving us no choice but to take themuch longer route through the back roads forthe next trip.The following day we meet the two gentlemenwho run the Boy’s orphanage, Pushpalinghamand Kamladash. They too are volunteers, and tellus that most of the NGO’s don’t want to help theorphanages, as the western belief is that childrenare better off in a home environment. But - theypoint out - the orphans are made up of childrenwho have lost one or both parents in the war, othersare brought there by Teachers or relatives, toprevent their parents taking them out of school atan early age - some as young as eight - to workin the fields. Yet others are brought there by theirparents to prevent them from being forced intotraining as child soldiers.They tell us of another smaller girls orphanage -about 20 girls - who also need supplies, as theirorphanage was looted during the displacement.They have arranged for English lessons for all thechildren from all three orphanages, but cannotUnder construction
  6. 6. Shakhti Girls OrphanagePage 5 of 6afford the $10 a week cost.We start early the next day, with a quick visit tosee the construction of the toilets. Rani is beamingfrom ear to ear, and thanks me again for hernew stove. She carefully keeps in it her house,bringing it out only to cook. The bricks andcement have arrived and the masons will be comingby later to start work.We then head back to Sittandy, to the orphanageto distribute some toys, and visit Arunachalam.I wanted to see him again and tell him that theoperation is paid for, and give him a few toys.We pick up more supplies and return to Kokkadichcholaitaking the long back roads. Thepotholes are like craters, and we go through fivecheckpoints. Throughout all the rural areas Inotice an armed soldier every 500 meters, and Iam suddenly aware of their ‘shoot first’ policy.We meet Pushpalingamand Kamladash anddrop off supplies, computersand toys to theboys orphanage, andthen hurry over to thesecond girls home todrop off supplies, computersand toys. Theyalso need a waterpump, and a tuk-tuk,the ubiquitous threewheeler, that can bepurchased for about$3,500. They tell me that the three orphanagescan share one, and it will be very helpfulfor them to bring food in, and take thechildren to medical and dental appointments.They currently have to rely on thealmost non existent transit system, or walkthe 4 kilometers to the ferry. The smallergirls orphanage also needs 9 bikes for the18 girls, to travel the few kilometers totheir school. I tell them it will have to wait,as I am now out of money, but I pay for oneyears worth of English lessons in advance.It is my last day here. I meet with Sasi whotells me that Arunachalam will be operatedon within a day or two, and he assures me thathe will send me reports on his progress. I thenmeet with
  7. 7. others fromthe SFS andsay my goodbyes.I stopby Rani’shouse. Thetoilets havenow takenshape, and arewaiting forthe concreteto cure, beforeputting on thefinal toplayer. Shesmiles as she sees me, and asks me to sit at thetable she has set out as she offers me a softPage 6 of 6drink. I know it’s probablytaken all her days income tobuy the two bottles of 7-up. Itake a few small sips and sharethe balance of it with her twograndchildren. Rani looks atme as she struggles with heremotions. She thanks me andstarts to cry, and I find myselfwiping the tears off mycheeks.I ask Raju to look into finding a trainingprogram for her, either sewing or somesimilar trade. I promise her that, if she willtake the training, I will pay for it, and evenpay for a new sewing machine.In all I raised $10,700 with thanks tofriends, family, clients, the agents and ownersof Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd. Brokerage.I was able to supply three orphanageswith computers, bought over 100 pairsof shoes, several hundred school uniforms/clothes, over 1,000 books, paid for an eyeoperation, paid for a new water pump, severalgoats and chickens, and gave start upmoney for a sewing centre, and built threetoilets.Oh yes, and I gave away over ahundred toys - because every childshould have a toy.There were no administration ortravel costs, so all of the money youdonated was used for the orphans
  8. 8. and the poor.Thank you.Errol Paulicpulle.Rani’s new toilet