My first couple of weeks in spicy Sri Lanka
02.06.2010 - 20.06.2010 27 °C
Well I’m settling into the rhythm of Sri Lankan life quite nicely now. I must admit it was hard at first, after backpacking around with fellow travelers to getting back into the a working routine. (I thought I had escaped it 2 months ago!) My hours of work are 7.30am-4.40pm Monday to Friday, however I’ve worked significantly longer hours than this. The NGO, ‘LEADS’ (Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Service) is focused upon development of communities and humanitarian relief to areas of natural disaster and human conflict. There is also a sub-department called ‘ESCAPE’ (Eradicating Sexual Child Abuse Prostitution and Exploitation).
The organisation has a well structured program for interns, taking me around its various departments. I have spent a couple of days working with ESCAPE, at their small childrens home. I must admit I found working with the children quite challenging. They came through the courts, hospitals and childrens homes, identified as being sexually abused, quite often trafficked into child prostitution. Their ages range from 12-17 and with limited or no English ability communication was hard. They are very sad children, with an awful lot of issues- I felt completely out of my depth being there. I was given two hours to work with them…no preparation, so I made theatre masks with them and taught the song ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes!’ It may have got a smile. The support and one on one counseling which LEADS offers prevents these children from falling through the net in society. I have also had to brush up on my Excel skills, as I was asked to develop a spreadsheet for the ESCAPE department to collate 3 books worth of information on the children and the home. I had the opportunity to sample the relief side of the organisation, working a 14 hour day packing relief aid packs of rice, lentils, sugar and onions for villages inland which have suffered from major flooding. When I arrived at the relief area, it looked like a scene from a comic relief film- hoards of people queuing for hours in the monsoon rain to get their aid packs.
My favourite experience so far has had to be the field research I've been doing Monday-Thursday of last week. Monday and Tuesday were spent visiting eight villages in the dense jungle region near Peradeniya- in the centre of the island, while Wednesday and Thursday were spent in the hill region near Kandy. LEADS has been working in the two regions for the past four years with the aim of alleviating poverty by providing funds to build basic facilities such as wells and toilets, while also providing micro-finance start up business loans to a number of village members. LEADS is not simply handing out money, which fosters a culture of dependence. It is essentially project managing sustainable development within the community. The village leader and council must show their account books and log income and output of the businesses. Projects range from agriculture, with tea plantations and fruit and vegetable crops; to live stock, clothing garments, and manufacturing of clay bricks.
It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn about poverty alleviation and sustainable development- experience I just couldn't get at home. Though I have been shocked at the disparity between the cities and the villages. I thought on first impressions that Sri Lanka was much more developed than India and Nepal, Colombo recently held the IIFA awards, Bollywoods Oscars; holding very lavish parties for its stars. While people are still needlessly dying in the villages due to poor sanitation. The government has been very reluctant to help these communities, highlighting the importance of Non Governmental Organisations. Very few of the villages inhabitants have English speaking ability, so I've been improving my language skills instead. 'Lassanai' means 'beautiful', 'etha hodi' meas 'very good', 'rasi' is 'tasty' and 'si thuthi' means 'thank you!' People react ecstatically when I speak, and come and hug me repeating what comment I had made. Furthermore, I have had an insight into Tamil traditions, village culture and food. When first arriving at a village, they will greet you, bow to your feet and offer a beetle leaf, which is believed to have medicinal properties, so seen as an offering of good health.
Though I am eager to return to the backpacking lifestyle, the experience of the past two weeks has been invaluable, and nothing like what most tourists wee when visiting Sri Lanka, I feel very privileged. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks at the NGO have in store...
P.S Thomas, unfortunately no speedo sightings as of yet; I was hoping for a surprise sighting in the jungle. Instead there are just an awful lot of men in sarongs.